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~~~~~~~~ In Memoriam: Harvey Korman (1927 - 2008) ~~~~
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~~~ GOOD MOUNTAIN PRESS DIGEST #091 Published January 1, 2009 ~~~== == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == Quote for the New Year's Month of January:
Writing is easy — it's having something worth writing about that is hard.
— Bobby Matherne
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THE GOOD MOUNTAIN PRESS DIGEST #091, January 2009Archived Digests
Table of Contents
1. January's Violet-n-Joey Cartoon
2. Honored Readers for January
3. On a Personal Note
4. Cajun Story
5. Recipe of the Month from Bobby Jeaux’s Kitchen: Boiled Shrimp
6. Poem: "The Parlor of Thoughts" inspired by Old & New Methods of Initiation by Rudolf Steiner
7. Reviews and Articles Added for January:
8. Commentary on the World
- ARJ2: Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
- ARJ2: On Being Blue — A Philosophical Inquiry by William Gass
- ARJ2: San Michele by Axel Munthe
9. Closing Notes - our mailing list, locating books, unsubscribing to Digest
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THE GOOD MOUNTAIN PRESS DIGEST #091== == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == ==
ARCHIVED DIGESTWORLD ISSUES ON THE WEB ~ ARCHIVED DIGESTWORLD ISSUES ~2000: INAUGURAL YEAR: Jun #1 Jul #2, Aug #3, Sept #4, Oct #5, Nov #6, Dec #7
2001: Jan #8, Feb #9, Mar #10, Apr #11, May #12, Jun #13, Jul #14, Aug #15, Sep #16, Oct #17, Nov #18, Dec #19
2002: Jan #20, Feb #21, Mar #22, Apr #23, May #24, Jun #25, Jul #26, Aug #27, Sep #28, Oct #29, Nov #30, Dec #31
2003: Jan #32, Feb #33, Mar #34, Apr #35, May #36, Jun #37, Jul #38, Aug #39, Sep #40, Oct #41, Nov #42, Dec #43
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1. January Violet-n-Joey CARTOON:
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For newcomers to the Digest, we have created a webpage of all the Violet-n-Joey cartoons! Check it out at: http://www.doyletics.com/vjtoons.htm Also note the rotating calendar and clock that follows just to the right of your mouse pointer as you scroll down the page. You'll also see the clock on the 404 Error page if you make a mistake typing a URL while on the doyletics.com website.
The Violet-n-Joey Cartoon page is been divided into two pages: one low-speed and one high-speed access. If you have Do NOT Have High-Speed Access, you may try this Link which will load much faster and will allow you to load one cartoon at a time. Use this one for High-Speed Access.
This month Violet and Joey learn about the Speed of Dark.
#1 "The Speed of Dark" at http://www.doyletics.com/images/122908jv.gif
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2. HONORED READERS FOR January:
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Each month we take time to thank two of our good readers of Good Mountain Press Digest, books and reviews. Here's our two worthy Honored Readers for this month. One of their names will be in the TO: address line of your email Digest notification. Our Honored Readers for January are:
Carolyn Yost in Indiana
Diana von Behren in New Orleans
Congratulations, Carolyn and Diane !
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3. ON A PERSONAL NOTE:
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Out Our Way:
One of my Good Readers asked me this month, "How long does it take you to do a Digest?" My answer was brief and immediate, as it is something I've thought about a lot, "A month." Every day during the month, I am either reading, photographing, writing, drawing or thinking and planning some piece for the Digest. Some days are long, especially when we near the end of the month — or the year as I type these personal notes — and some important events crowd my schedule, strapping me in my desk chair typing away from 7 AM to 10 PM to make my deadline. Fortunately, it is my self-imposed deadline with no publisher around to goad me, prod me, or browbeat me if I am not on time — no, it is only my own pride in a job well-done and on time that keeps me working till the final proof of the Digest is ready to be published by the first of each month. Keep those emails and comments coming, especially if you have questions, as your emails and verbal comments act as nourishment to this writer and brightens up my days at the keyboard. Speaking of keyboard, this is a new keyboard, only about three years old, but already these letters have begun to disappear: the L key label is completely gone as are the M and N keys, the E, S, and C keys are about halfway gone. These key labels have disappeared during the joy I experience sharing with you, my Good Readers, what I am doing during the month and making it possible for you to enjoy my reviews, photos, and the other items which it is my delight to bring to you each month.
THANKS ! ! ! and A SPECIAL HAPPY NEW YEAR from me and Del, my best friend, my wife, my intrepid copy-editor and my reader-of-first-resort.
JOY TO THE WORLD EVENT AT CRYSTAL CATHEDRAL
As fans of Robert H. Schuller's writing and talks for over forty years, we have wanted to attend the Glory of Christmas in the Crystal Cathedral for some time now, and in 2008, we achieved that goal. We received a special invitation to attend the Joy to the World Leadership Council Meeting on the Cathedral campus in Garden Grove, California, and we were delighted to accept. My first chance to announce that we were going was on Thanksgiving Day when in the evening our son, Rob, from Bloomington, Indiana mentioned to me over the phone that he would be in Anaheim the next week. "Great," I said, "we'll meet you there." He was taken a bit aback, as I expected, as he travels for his work, and gets around the country much more than we do. But he had a meeting to attend at the Anaheim Convention Center during the same time we would be staying at the Hyatt-Regency Hotel, about a mile away from his hotel. He said he wanted me to drive him around the area, but we hadn't planned to rent a car as all our other transportation was to be taken care of by the Cathedral.
A couple of days before we were due to leave for California, I received out of the blue, a PIX message. No hint as to who had sent it, just a photo. I took a look at it, and didn't recognize it, some house with a garage, but dimly lit and hard to see the house. I had just talked to my daughter and perhaps she had sent it. Called her, no.Then I realized it must be our 1970 house in Anaheim on 2122 Judith Lane. Rob must have gone there at dusk, taken a photo, and sent it to me. I texted him a reply and sure enough it was him. (Kinda hard to Reply to a message when you don't know who it came from.) We arranged to meet him at our hotel on Thursday after we arrived on the shuttle from LAX. Last time we went to an event at the Cathedral, it was for Palm Sunday in 2006, and we attended the Glory of Easter. During the services that Sunday the American daredevil, Robert Evel Knievel made a profession of faith and was baptized by Robert A. Schuller. See our May, 2006 Digest075 for details of that trip. This trip we were expecting some information about the status of Robert A. Schuller, the Senior Pastor, whose absence from the Hour of Power had raised many questions, unanswered question, for many people around the world. An announcement was made at the services on Sunday morning, which I will discuss a bit later.
We had two other sets of friends to meet up with on this California trip, and though we had tried to meet them on our previous trip, they were both out of town or otherwise unavailable. Our luck was with us this time and we were able to spend quality time with both Norma and Doyle Henderson as well as Sara Lee and Glenn Martin.
The first week of December we took Buster, my dad, to Kenner Seafood for his favorite, oysters on the half-shell. They had some large female crabs, so I ordered us a dozen to eat before the oysters were opened. The crabs were very good. Then we each had a dozen oysters. Went back to Mimosa and played two hands of cards, the three of us (Pay Me!) I won both games, recovering rom a very bad start. The other event was my attending the funeral of an old friend of mine, Teddy Tsavelles, who ran Teddy's Restaurant on Lasalle St. in the 1960s when I worked for the Tulane Biomedical Computing System next door. It was my mass at a Greek Orthodox church, the Greek Cathedral alongside Bayou St. John in New Orleans.
On Thursday we left for MSY about 1:30 pm and got there in plenty time. Parked the Maxima in Long-term Parking 4F . Flight was about 60 % full and we stretched out, tried to get warm, and slept most of the way. After our lugubrious experience with layovers and missed flights at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport on our previous flight to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, we decided to opt for only direct flights to LAX and take the longer shuttle ride to Anaheim. Turned out to be fortuitous as we met a family with two small kids, Alistair and Charlotte, and their parents Sue and John Train, got on, LAX shuttle bus with us. Sue Train etal were headed for Disneyland and to meet her parents, Erna & Chuck Detch, from Vermont, Brattleboro. We made friends with Sue & John on shuttle ride and said we'd look for their parents in the Council meeting. We later met Erna and Chuck and found them to be a delightful people.
Robbie was in Anaheim when we arrived and got off the Blue Van at the Hyatt Regency Anaheim. I called him and he said he'd be over in half an hour — I didn't know at the time that he was walking. We met him in the lobby and tried to find Joe's Crab Shack. Went outside to left, crossed barred fence and no luck. Then we went over to right side and there was the Marriott Suites across the street and we followed our nose to the Crab Shack for dinner. I had clam chowder as did Rob and I had crab cake in addition. He'd already eaten. We visited, walked back to the Hyatt, and he walked back to his hotel. It was about 10 pm New Orleans time by the time we got seated and after midnight by the time we hit the sack.
When I woke up the first morning on the tenth floor of the Hyatt and looked out the far window, I was looking towards and through the 12 story high atrium glass wall which looked all the world as if we had been sleeping near the ceiling of the Crystal Cathedral. (See photo upper right.)Beth Muma, one of the Council Meeting staff, was delighted when I told her that and brought over a Hyatt Rep so I could tell her. In fact, I could see through the atrium the Arvella Schuller Carillon Tower and the Crystal Cathedral about a mile away. Del and I ate downstairs in the Hyatt's California Grill, the Huevos Rancheros, eggs ala mode of the old California ranches, large and delicious, worth every bite, kept me satisfied till nightfall when we ate in Atrium on the Crystal Cathedral campus.
Called Norma right away and found out she and Doyle Henderson would be driving over the next day, Saturday afternoon, and staying in a hotel room nearby. They ended up directly across the roadway to the entrance of the Hyatt, in the very corner of the same block of the Hyatt, only a short walk through the Marriott's pool area to the elevators to their room. But I didn't know that beforehand as her description was simply it was on the corner.
We had hours before the Conference check-in about 3, so we boarded the shuttle to Downtown Disney and enjoyed a stroll through the public Disney area in the daytime — our last time being there was after nightfall and rather cold and unpleasant. We strolled all the way over to Disneyland Hotel, the first time for Del and for me about 35 years — I attended some meeting there, as I recall. Took photos of me and Del with Mickey & Minnie bronzes, and one of me smashed on a Lego piece.
Back at the Hyatt, we got registered in short order for Joy to the World, and met some folks at the Welcome Reception, and enjoyed the food and hot chocolate for a late lunch. Later we boarded the shuttle to the Crystal Cathedral, found the Atrium dinner site, saved a table for us, and asked how to get to the Art Exhibit; Charles Smith, pointed to the building and said, "Just a short walk across the water." What was funny is the life-size bronze of Christ Jesus was walking atop the water he was pointing us to maneuver across. We all laughed, and Del and I, choosing discretion over valor and used the pathway instead of the water. It was a great exhibit, many of the pieces, that is. A Mexican artist with bronze-toned painting was my favorite. There was a mirror-topped ironing board with a medicine chest above where it attached tot he wall that was ineffably riveting. The statuary of Joseph and Mary raising their first son into the air was my favorite sculpture piece. Reminded me of how I felt about my first and only son, Robert Hilman Matherne, when he was born. I raised him up in joy many times.
The dinner entree featured a dry and somewhat tough piece of swordfish, but by adding butter and cutting it in small pieces, I was able to eat and enjoy it. Arvella talked to dinner guests and Robert H. Schuller, the father, addressed us very briefly, complimenting Arvella on her talk. No sign of Robert A. Schuller. We began to get clues as to what had happened, but the full revelation was to wait for Sunday morning. To close the event, Santa Claus came, said a few words, attempted some funnies, and then gave goodies to Carol Aspline's kid chorus who had serenaded us. We walked over to Crystal Cathedral and got in line for the Glory of Christmas which was a part of our Joy to the World Weekend celebration.
I respected their wishes and took no photos until outside after the performance, one of each of the Wise Men (Magi from Zarathustra's Mystery Schools), namely, Melchior (frankincense), Caspar (myrrh), and Balthazar (gold). When the Three Kings dismounted their camels on stage in order to present their gifts to the Jesus child, Camel #2 did a prodigious #2 on the stage as he sat down. That camel was obviously frightened and his sphincter opened as he knelt down. Curiously, the livestocker handler was named Oliver Livestock! Even the pooper scoopers were in period costumes.
The performance was beautiful, although a bit soporific for me at times, too much music and not enough script and action to separate the one-carol-after-another progression. A little Rumpa-pum-pum would have been nice, or anything up tempo to break up the long runs of organ music. It was gorgeous, it was glorious, and once in a row is enough for me. We went back on the shuttle happy and sleepy and ready for our full day of seminars, visiting, and the banquet the next day.
We skipped a full breakfast the next morning, opting for a latte and banana instead. Del and I got on the same shuttle as the Detch's and Train's and took a photo of them together. Promised to email photo to Sue's mom, Erna. We walked around the campus, stopping in the Prayer Chapel under the Carillon Tower to enjoy the quiet and the magnificent statue of Jesus raising his hand out of the spirit world carved out of pure crystal. As the block of crystal moved slowly in a circle, you could see the 3-D sculpture inside, actually hollowed-out, so that it appeared to be Christ Jesus in spirit form reaching into the physical world upward with His right arm which then appears outside and above the crystal block as a real arm, a dramatic bridging of the spiritual world into the physical world, a metaphor for Christ's life as a Spirit become Man.
I took some more photos around the campus, one of the carrilon and cathedral in subdued light due to overcast clouds, one of the rosemary hedges which were in full bloom, and then walked to the opening session led by John Charles, clad in his usual brightly colored Hawaiian shirt, this one with a wrap-around Santa's sleigh on its front and back. He introduced several people, including Gretchen and Jim Penner, Jim Coleman, new President and graphics designer. We found that they had all taken a substantial pay cut because of the tough times and yet most have kept the same dollar amount of their tithes.
In the afternoon, I went on the Academy Tour led by Sheila Schuller Coleman (Jim's wife) and Director of the K-12 school. She talked about her challenges at the school. How the buildings we were in were being sold to fund an endowment to keep the Hour of Power on the air during those summer and fall months each year when contributions slacken. They finally bought an old house from a holdout, a man who demanded over twice what the property was worth, knowing he had Schuller over a barrel, but he had recently died and his heirs accepted the reasonable offer that had been on the table.With that property, Academy will be able to build the new school and move out of the office building that they are now using. Their lease for four years will allow the school to continue until the new facilities are ready. Had a chance to talk to the Academy Director about doyletics. I am still trying to locate an educator who will learn the value of doyletics and apply it to the children in a school. I told her about how one can use the speed trace easily on school age kids. Mentioned our grand-daughter's Evelyn's speed trace as example of how a simple memory trace intervention by an educator could remove disturbing doyles quickly and easily.
After the last session, I located Del, took a trick photo of her holding the life-size Christ-walking-on-water statue in her hand. I had seen some earlier photos taken by the Cathedral's photographer who played with optical illusions with the statue and humans. By a slight photoshop editing, the effect of the statue standing in Del's hand was dramatic. We went back to the hotel to meet Doyle and Norma and spend time with them before the banquet. Met a guy in the lobby with a "Smartass University" sweater on. I told him that I have often been asked if I had graduated from that university and could I take a photo of him. He laughed and assented. With a little photoshop magic, the sweatshirt appeared connected to my head.
Doyle and Norma could not get a room at the Hyatt, but checked in at Marriott Residence Inn. I walked all the way around the corner to locate it, went to their room, 324, and found Doyle looking chipper as ever, on oxygen, but otherwise the same. He said that I was looking great. Norma was not her chipper self. She went through a friend's death, Ken, with similar disease as Doyle, congestive heart failure, and after he died, she nearly died from a mysterious loss of blood. Never found where the blood went, but she needed 6 quarts to recover what she lost. Now she has some sharp pain in her shoulder which comes up at times. As soon as I arrived in lobby, I asked if there was a shorter way to the Hyatt and yes, there is, the clerk told me, and sure enough, a short walk past the pool and across the street, and I was in the Hyatt Lobby front entrance. Beats the block long walk I took to get there!
Doyle rolled his new $4K oxygen generator which operates off AC or Auto plug, but he bought a demo and apparently the battery pack is needing replacement or at least he urgently needs a backup battery. They came over and ordered appetizers and we visited with them until it was time for us to go to the pre-banquet appetizers. I decided to walk back with them because Doyle's battery went out and he was without oxygen. He had not brought the AC plug or he could have charged up his battery before he left the Hyatt. When he got across the roadway, he stopped stockstill . . . for several minutes. He had described his procedure to me, so I wasn't concerned unduly, but the heart pain he experienced during these stops, any one could kill him. Norma and I walked ahead to ensure we could get into the gate, and I sought and found a charging spot. Doyle had to stop right outside the gate and I fetched a chair for him to sit on. We had to almost drag him the three feet through the gate. He sat down and I sent Norma to the room to fetch the AC cord and found a place with a chair right outside the lobby where Doyle could move to and sit down while Norma carried the plug back and he could be breathing pure oxygen again. He insisted that I immediately take the machine to the room and plug it in. That simply did not make sense to me.
There's no need for oxygen to accumulate, when Doyle gets into his room, the machine could be plugged in and give him oxygen. I got an instance of his stubborn insistence that Norma had described to me that upset her repeatedly. I didn't take the tank, but called Norma and asked her to wait there with the plug ready to start up the oxygen machine. Doyle insisted on pulling the machine himself even though it took some of the energy he needed to get to the room. He stopped once more as we rounded the corner on the third floor to his room. Every time, I held breath, and stayed with him, until finally I walked ahead of him, took the tank into Norma, and held the door open till Doyle could sit down and get his oxygen. I said goodbye, adding that we'd meet them in the morning after the Hour of Power services, and I headed back to my room to dress for the Grand Banquet at the Hyatt. The dinner was a rubber chicken affair. A young man to my left, Mahul, asked for a vegetarian option for his wife Diane and I asked for the same for me. It was the same meal without the chicken.
While waiting for the banquet to start, Pat Castelluci of Truckee, California came up to me and said, "You look like a neighbor of mine, a man named Duplantis." That was strange, but what happened next was one of the strangest things that has ever happened to me. To this day, I cannot explain how she saw a resemblance between me and her neighbor, a man that I have known since I was about 9 years old.As I asked her for more details, I discovered that he was an oilfield lawyer who lived in Lafayette, La., and who owned this condo next to her and showed up at various times of the year. "Was his wife about this hight and blonde?" I asked her, yes, she said. Well, that must be Bobby Duplantis who has been a friend of mine since we grew up together as kids a block away in Westwego! I was in the classes through Westwego Elementary and High School through the 9th grade with his wife, Carolyn Pizani. Along with Brenda Cheramie, she had the best grades of the girls in school. What was so amazingly incredible was that Pat picked up similarities between me and Bobby Duplantis which neither he or I (I suppose) would have suspected. Must be partially due to our similar way of talking having grown up so close to each that led her to walk over to me and tell me about her neighbor, but to my knowledge Pat never heard me talk before she approached me. I asked Del to get a photo of the two of us together, Pat and I, to send to Bobby Duplantis and show him evidence that this lady claims he and I resemble each other. In a great cosmic coincidence, a lady halfway across the continent knows us two Bobbys only as adults and thinks we look very much alike. Here's a photo of me, Carolyn and Bobby Duplantis taken during our 50th West Jefferson High School Reunion this year.
The closing banquet was great, except for the macaroni and cheese topped by undercooked green beans and squash. Robert H. Schuller talked to us, thanking us for our support, and John Charles exhorted us to contribute to support the Hour of Power Ministry. When pianist Roger Williams was introduced, he came through the middle of the dining area right next to me, and I was able to shake his hand and say my own, "Thanks for the music" to him personally. He played two pieces on the Steinway Grand, dedicating "The Rose" to a beautiful lady, Mrs. Freed (the Freed Theater is named after her), a great world-wide philanthropist and supporter of the Hour of Power. Then he told Arvella that he planned to play "How Great Thou Art" in her honor, and Arvella asked if he could do "Bringing in the Sheaves" instead, whose title embodied another message to assembled donors and a self-effacing move by a great lady. Roger grinned his patented grin and said, "You challenge me," and proceeded to play eight bars of "Sheaves", then segued into "How Great Thou Art", ending with a brief quotation of "Bringing in the Sheaves". What a pleasure to hear Roger Williams, whose songs have been Top Ten hits since his No. 1 "Autumn Leaves" in 1995, still playing as great as ever at age 83.
The next morning, Sunday morning, we got over to the Hour of Power service late after Del tried to locate her lost package which contained my "Christmas Present" and wasn't able to find it. Perhaps she can order them online thru the bookstore website. She attended a session during the conference yesterday on how to use the hourofpower.org website and came away with a wonderful story — she said that one of the attendees, a Tulane Medical School Doctor friend of ours, who was in that session with her, when asked to raise his mouse, lifted it several feet above his mouse pad. Computer teachers need experiences like this in order to understand how to speak to techno-newbies, translating their computer lingo into non-computer terms.
BILL HYBELS and HOUR OF POWER
We went to the Crystal Cathedral early, hoping I could say hello to Don Neuen the choral conductor. As I was walking from the Academy to the Cathedral, I recognized a male singer in the chorus, and went over and shook his hand, telling how much I enjoyed his marvelous voice in the choir. Elliott Jackson introduced himself and thanked me for making his day. While Del was at lost and found. I went to the Cathedral and the chorus was doing sound checks, so I knew they'd be going downstairs later. I found Del at the Tower of Hope Lost and Found. It was manned by Bobby Matthews and he caught the similarity of his and my name. While Del went up to check the wills seminar rooms, he and I shared our name stories. His first name was Robert and called Bobby and Bob, as was I at various stages of my life, both of us settling at last on Bobby.
Then we went to find a seat. I walked downstairs and saw the Choir eating, there was our friend Marion Huang grabbing a plate of food, but no Don. I started to leave and saw the Sean the Organist and asked for Don. "He's studying the music now, try to catch him after the service." Which is what I did. I saw the Chorus coming down the stairs and waited for Don. I told him how much I enjoyed and was inspired by his music and direction of the chorus. He was truly touched and thanked me. What a great gentleman he is, in addition to a world-class Chorus Conductor.
The guest minister, Bill Hybels, did the homily in both services, two different sermons. The first one was about Moses and the second one about Influence. They were both great, but the second one I found more memorable. He told of taking a boat across Lake Michigan and landing 12 miles from where he first met Christ, staying on a hill near the water. Spontaneously deciding to visit the place, but with no cab service thereabouts, he had to hire a hippie type to drive him. With his gas tank on empty, Bill paid for him to fill it up. As they're driving away from the gas station, the hippie said "Gee, it drives funny with a full tank!" Later the hippie asked what he was doing on the hill, and Hybels explained it to him. He then related to us the three parables that Christ Jesus told the Pharisees when they complained about his "wasting time on the riff-raff". The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal or lost son. These were clearly aimed at Robert H. Schuller, who's losing his son in some way which was still unclear. But We heard an announcement from the west coast director of the Reformed Church that Robert A. Schuller had resigned as Senior Pastor and was carving out a new career for himself, something that the Crystal Cathedral Ministry is planning to encourage, but we don't and they don't yet know what it is.
We also attended the second service in order to hear Bill Hybels' second homily, and I was looking for our shuttle bus when I saw Arvella pass. I shook her hand and thanked her for all she did, thinking specifically of her contributions to the church music and hymns which she has modernized. Then suddenly Robert H. Schuller was walking past — I held out my hand to shake his and greet him and he said as he passed me, "Walk with me." I walked along with him and in a few steps he was seated in the golf cart transport. I had first shaken his hand back around 1970 after Archbishop Fulton Sheen had spoken at the Tower of Hope, and when we attended the Palm Sunday service in 2007, his right hand was hurting and he was unable to shake anyone's hand. This time I shook his hand and thanked him. He turned it around, seeing my badge as a Council Member, and said, "No, I thank you for all you've done to make this possible." It was fitting end to a wonderful weekend at the Crystal Cathedral and I walked away, my heart warmed and my soul full, to get on the shuttle with Del.
Sunday afternoon had a full schedule of friends for us. When we arrived back at the Hyatt Regency Norma and Doyle Henderson were waiting for us in the Atrium lobby and we joined them for a late lunch and talked for several hours before they left to return home. They are an amazing couple, got married, got divorced, and are still very best friends. It was sad to think that this may be the last time we'll see Doyle . He has outlived his friend Warren Liberty who suffered from a similar congestive heart failure, but Warren didn't need oxygen, didn't have diabetes, didn't have prolapsed valves, didn't have sleep apnea, and many of the other additional health challenges which have beset Doyle over the past several decades. His long-term diabetes was iatrogenic — it began in 1980 when he was given the drug, ALDAMET, perhaps an overdose, for his high blood pressure, and his insulin-diabetes followed shortly after he had been prescribed the medication. Apparently this drug is still being prescribed for hypertension. An instrument engineer in his career, he now applies his instrumentation knowledge and skills to keeping himself alive. He is a veritable font of knowledge about medical instrumentation, having used many of these devices on himself, for example he insisted on taking mine and Del's oxygen level with the finger tip sensor he carries with him. It was truly great to see him in fine fettle otherwise, as always, as he lost all his fear doyles and is as optimistic about life as any person I know at any age.
After they left, we went upstairs and packed for the early flight tomorrow morning, and awaited Glenn Martin who was coming to pick us up around dark. We drove with him to his home in Yorba Linda and had a lovely dinner prepared by his wife, Sara Lee Mills Martin. When we last visited them around 1981, they had just moved into their new home, and I remember the backyard had a big pile of dirt needing to graded. Since that time they have greatly expanded the house, going up with a second story and expanding the living room outward as well. Glenn and I shared a townhouse in Fullerton in 1969 when I first moved to California. He offered the space to me as I waited for my wife to sell our home in the New Orleans area. He and I both worked for Lockheed Electronics in the city of Commerce, and we car pooled together during that time and became great friends. He was known as "Uncle Glenn" to my young children at the time, the closest thing in 2,000 miles to a real uncle.When he and Sara Lee Mills got married in Chico, California, I stood in their wedding and got to meet her large family in Central California, a land of huge farms everywhere. I had never had seen pheasant running wild along the roadside before or since.
Downstairs we each had a Starbucks latte — I had a small and Del had a tall. Inside joke: Tall = Small in Starbucks' twisted logic of size labeling. The cranberry muffin was cold, the shop had no microwave, had to take it up to our Room 1052 to nuke it and it still tasted lousy. Threw half of it away. The Blue Van came and we drove in rush hour traffic to LAX. At one point, the Middle Eastern driver kept entering a small strip shopping center and talking on cell phone and we got curious, finally he held out the phone and asked if we would talk to the passenger and find out where he is. His spars English wasn't helping him find his next fare. I took the phone, and the fare said he was at a LaQuinta Inn — luckily Del spotted it around behind the strip mall. Lost twenty minutes on that boondoggle and got to LAX 20 minutes late, but an hour and a half early and made it through the hoops and hurdles, sans shoes etal, in plenty time to rest before our half empty or half full (take your choice) 737 took off for MSY and arrived there about twenty minutes early thanks to tail wind. On the trip home I spent the entire three hours typing away on my laptop. By the time we were readying to land and I had to stow LT away, I was half done with Sunday's journal. Whew! Saved me a lot of time doing it that way and it made the trip go quickly. It will be direct flight to LAX from now on.
What is so rare as a December day filled with snow in New Orleans? Last time was a short four years ago on Christmas Day, but Del was nursing her mother after several back operations and never got home during the snowing. This time, I was up early and suggested a fire. She didn't think it was necessary, but I got the fire in the hearth going ablaze and about 8:30 AM, we had been up and about for a hour or so, when Del happened to look outside and shouted, "IT's SNOWING!" Not only snowing, but big flakes and heavier and heavier snowing as the morning progressed. Soon the snow began accumulating on the ground. Last time, I wasn't ready to take photos in the snow, but this time I had it figured out, putting a hat over my camera and my head. This kept the camera dry and allowed me to take photos easily in the heavy snow. About three inches of snow fell in the course of several hours. It was a fun exciting morning. Drove on my usual PJ Coffeeshop run for a latte; everyone I saw had bright faces and excitement in their voices. On the way home, I stopped by to see Rosie. She had just got back from getting her hair done. She showed me her fireplace running with the new gas logs which she worked so hard to get installed last year. Then she stepped outside for a few seconds so I could get a picture of her in the snow. Took photos of my neighbors' houses as many of them were at work and couldn't do it themselves. Sent Michael Hunt photos of his daughter's house across the street from us with the large golden elks installed for the holidays. They look like reindeer, and in previous years I would have mistaken them myself, until I went on a Christmas home tour on the Gulf Coast to the Log Cabin and there was a full-size reindeer head mounted on a wall.The reindeer have a middle antler which is used specifically to clear snow away from the ground so they can forage in the winter. Here's a photo I took on Dec. 11, 2004 of the reindeer so you can see the snow-clearing antler.
Everyone I saw had a smile on their face. It felt very much like Christmas. On WWL, the sports guy was saying this is an omen that we'll beat Chicago tonight. It's snowing in New Orleans and not in Chicago where the Saints are on national TV tonight. Talked to Yvette. I sent all 8 kids a photo of me and Del in the snow in the front yard. Mo sent me one of her and Merlyn with a snowman they built in the EJ schoolyard. All across the city, folks were enjoying the snowing and the snow on the ground. by Noon, the snow had turned to rain and began to dry up. By 2 pm, we had sun shining on us.
That Sunday we watched the "Adventures of the Dropsy Twins", Robert Meachem and Devry Henderson, fumble away the Saints' chances at an NFL Playoff Spot this year. They each dropped the only pass thrown to them. The Saints took a three point lead with 2 minutes left and then rolled over to allow the Bears to make two drives for a Field Goal to tie in regulation and then lose in Over Time. Mostly they need linemen as fierce as Chicago's and Tampa Bay's are and they don't have them, up until now.They need more Jonathan Vilma's on the team. The next Saturday while Del was busy getting everything ready for the kids coming in to spend the night, I checked out the Louisiana High School State Championship game with Belle Chasse and Shaw. I had been reading about the Belle Chasse quarterback, but for the first time I got to see Blake Matherne running, dodging, and breaking tackles. What a great back he'd be for LSU in the coming years. Hope somebody clues in Les Miles' staff, before some other Louisiana college snaps him up. Can't imagine a better special teams player. During the game, he ran back a punt, weaving through defenders till finally stopped by the sixth guy who attempted a tackle about the 15 yard line. On the next play Matherne took the snap as quarterback and led his team to a Touchdown. Usually special team returners sit out a play after a long run back, but not Blake.
Five of our eight kids were here for our Family Christmas Day on December 14. As kids get older and their kids get older (the fifth of our grandchildren, Katie Gralapp, will be graduating from high school next Spring), we have to struggle to find a weekend when the I-10 Corridor set can come to Timberlane for Christmas.As it were, our two daughters from the far west extent of I-10 in Beaumont and Houston couldn't make it, but they will show up later. Carla on the Monday before Christmas and Yvette before New Year's on the way back from her husband's family in Michigan. The last of the eight, Robbie and his family, will be here on the Sunday after Christmas, the 28th, and we are expecting them within the hour as I type these makeup notes.
Here with their children were Kim, Jim, John, Stoney, and Maureen, and spouses, Wes, Gina, Sue. Grandchildren: Katie, Weslee, Thomas, Kirt, Collin, Kyle, Sam, and Gabe. I got a tutorial from Sam and Gabe on the World at War PS/3 game which Jim gave me. First time using the SONY product for something other than playing a Blu-Ray disk. With NetFlix going to Blu-Ray format, about half of the new movies we're currently getting through the mail are on High-Definition Blu-Ray. With the simple addition of a separate remote, the PS/3 operates as a Blu-Disk player and is faster and smoother than the Toshiba HD-DVD player we had bought several years ago when the format battle was still a toss-up.Last time SONY lost the format battle of BetaMax and VHS and I bet on SONY. This time, I bet against SONY and lost, but got two excellent DVD players in the process. Had one recent standard definition movie which had some color aliasing noise on the PS/3 and I switched to the Toshiba and it played just fine. Cannot have too much redundancy is a lesson I've learned the hard way as a computer engineer since 1964. Got "The Dark Knight" movie on Blu-Ray as a Xmas Present, It came with a "Digital Copy" DVD which Del tried to play, but it wouldn't. There were no instructions as to what a Digital Copy is so I have no idea of what use it is, and frankly I don't care! All the presence of this unwanted and unneeded extra disk did was waste our time when Del put it in the player, it wouldn't play, and instead of enjoying a movie, I suddenly had to go into trouble-shooting mode.
FOUR LITTLE NUTRIA IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
The next week on the way back from PJ's, I drove past Rosie's house and passed a dead animal in the middle of the road. I slowed down to identify it, probably a possum, when suddenly I realized it was neither dead nor one animal, but a group of four small baby animals. I immediately took out my T300 camera and backed up to take photos of them huddled together on the yellow stripe in the middle of Fairfield Drive. There were four nutria babies, each about the size of a large guinea pig. As I raised my camera to shoot them, one of them looked up to me and said, "Cooo" as if I were its mother and it wanted to eat. I couldn't see their orange buck teeth, the nutria signature, but their luscious thick fur and long tails made it obvious that these were lost baby nutrias, searching for their mother.As I drove home, I kept going over this line, "Four little nutria in the middle of the road" and by the time I arrived at home, I had decided to write a poem. What came out was "The Ballad of The Four Little Nutria" which you can read and enjoy down in the Commentary Section of this Digest, together a photo of the four baby nutria. In one photo you can see the white van heading towards me in the distance which later stopped. I watched in my rear view mirror as two guys got out of the car. Clearly they will rescue the four babies and take them somewhere safe, return them to the canal or marsh. But the more I thought on the situation, there is nowhere really safe for a nutria of any size in South Louisiana. They have a bounty on their heads of $5 each. All you need to do is to take a tail to the right office and turn it in to collect your bounty. Perhaps these two guys will collect their $20 bucks and buy a case or two of beer with the money. That thought added a little drama to the ballad. Hope you enjoy it.
It occurs to me that I mention so many of the things Del and I do during the course of a month, but up until now I have rarely mentioned my writing, an activity which takes up a lot of our time. This month Del copy-edited my review of Le Guin's "Steering the Craft" and gave me an A++ — she said it was "Excellent. Made me want to read the book." That is the response I strive for in my reviews. I immediately published "Steering" to the web, tweaked it a bit, and went on to tackle "On Being Blue" by William Gass next. Had about 4 pages of "Blue" written when it was time to watch a movie with Del till the LSU Basketball game came on at 7 PM and then the Hornets game at 8:30. Naturally there was an overlap of the two games, but with five TV's to choose from I could watch both games during the overlap, and after the Hornets game was over, I played World at War till 1 AM. Getting to know the moves and the weapons a bit and advanced through two more checkpoints and stayed alive. Enjoying the Russian soldier perspective during the game. Fits in well with the Russian Literature course I finished several months ago and the Russian history course I'm taking now. Teaching about things Russian is not a high priority in American schools, so one must want to study about Russia on one's own, or be satisfied with news reports, etc., for one's knowledge of the Russian people, not the best source of real in-formation about an important country which fills part of Europe and Asia from the Caucus Mountains to the Bering Sea. My third review for the month had to wait until I finished the 500 page book, "The Story of San Michele" by Axel Munthe.I had been wanting to read this book since I visited the Museum in Anacapri which comprises the house, grounds, and chapel that Axel Munthe built on the top of a mountain on the Isle of Capri in Italy, on the very grounds on which 2000 years earlier the Emperor Tiberius Caesar had constructed a summer palace. The story of Axel's life as a young doctor before he finally settled in Anacapri is more interesting than the story of the work he did on the house, but the house and grounds speak eloquently as testimony to Axel's natural architecture and building skills.
CHRISTMAS PARTY AND NORMAN PINEDA'S WEDDING
The week before Christmas rev'ed up a bit with my club's Christmas Party one night and the wedding of one of the kids on Marcie Street who called Del, Mom, Norman Pineda. At the club party, we talked to Duke and Pam, who Del knew from her Warren Easton high school days. Duke's birthday is Dec. 26, and traditionally they celebrate with a day at the races by going to the Fairgrounds, which is New Orleans' horse racing track. They invited me and Del to come along, we considered it. Then the very next night we met at Norman's wedding, the Quarterback from our son Stoney's high school football team Eric Heitzman and his lady friend, Carmel. Together they work as trainers at the Fairgrounds. Our conversation with Duke and Pam still fresh in my mind, I asked if they had a horse in a race on Dec. 26. "Yes, it's Tiffany Marie." That set off some bells for me and Del as our first grand-daughter is named Tiffany and all three of my daughters have the name Marie in some form as their name. So we planned to go the Fairgrounds on the day after Christmas, but somewhere along the way Del planned her mom's hair appointment for that day, and we had to settle for going to an Off-Track Betting Parlor, the Finish Line instead. We combined that with a trip to a nearby Home Depot to buy plants, tools, and light bulbs, and when we arrived to place our bets on Tiffany Marie, the eighth horse in the eighth race, Post time scheduled for 4:54 PM, they were already on the tenth race. The next morning I noted that Tiffany Marie finished out of the money in fourth place. We would have both lost, Del likes to bet Show and I like to bet Win. So it was a lucky horse race for us because it ran an hour earlier than projected and we missed it.
The wedding of Norman Pineda and his bride Stephanie was at the old Cotton Exchange on Magazine Street in downtown New Orleans. A very elegant place for a wedding and the weather cooperated for the outdoor event. The sparse candle-lighting may it difficult to get a clear photo of the ceremony for anyone but the photographer, but we got some shots of Norman and his bride and some of Stoney's other friends who were there. We took a break after the ceremony and walked over to Miracle on Fulton Street, with its long covered walkway filled with Christmas decorations and the artificial snow every half-hour. We got to hear the Benny Grunch Bunch singing the Twelve Y'ats of Christmas in the large tent, and then we returned to the wedding. The artificial snow was not so much fun as the real thing we had experienced just a week earlier a few miles away at Timberlane, but until the Roosevelt Hotel returns to it former glory next year with its famed Angel Hair tunnel through the lobby, the Miracle on Fulton Street is a great substitute and adjunct for Christmas revelers in downtown.
CARLA AND PATRICK'S VISIT
Del and I drove to Buster's house about 2 PM or so, and played a game of Pay Me! with Daddy till Carla and Patrick arrived from Beaumont. Janet and Janice and Steve came over about the end of our game. Then Carla and Patrick arrived. It was Patrick first trip to meet Carla's Matherne relatives and he talked to my sister Janet for a long time in the Living Room, they both being high school teachers for about thirty years. Meanwhile we gave Dad his Christmas present of a new shirt and suspenders. He liked them.Then we left to come home to Timberlane; it had gotten freezing cold in the meantime. I let Carla & Patrick watch the Coral Reef Blu-Ray in the Screening Room while Del and I scrabbled together some food for us, mostly leftovers from the Kids' weekend and stuff we had on hand. I had not done the groceries yet this week. We had veggies & dip, salsa and chips, and I squeezed a gallon and half of the three juices: navel, honeybell, and grapefruit. The previous day I had to brush off the brown cypress leaves off the roof, and while up there, I rescued the grapefruit hanging over the sidewalk, as when these fall down, they split and have to be thrown away anyhow. Then we watched together the 1992 movie, "Midnight Clear" , a Christmas-time movie with Gary Sinise, Ethan Hawke and others as a WWII American patrol in a snowy forest, holed up in a chateau with a shattered platoon of six Germans wanting to surrender to them after having celebrating Christmas with them. A telling look at the usually untold horrors of war.
The temperature had dropped to about 40 (10 C) and we enjoyed the fire in the fireplace. Pat and I went to PJ's, bought latte's and cranberry muffins, then stopped by Breaux Mart to buy some milk and bread. When we got back, I fixed the Crystal Wedding oatmeal the way Maman Nette did when I was a kid. They still include a glass in each box (plastic now, used to be real glass) and their rolled oats make the smoothest oatmeal. Will have to include that as a recipe of the month sometime soon. and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. We enjoyed a leisurely morning around the house, and then about noon, we left for the French Quarter. Del suggested a detour down St. Charles Avenue, which garbled up my plans to drive straight to our parking lot on Conti, but it all turned out well.We drove up Carrollton to City Park and then looped back to Esplanade and stopped in to visit our grand-daughter Jennifer who was working the checkout counter at Terranova's Supermarket when we arrived. Never saw her so happy before. This is her new family and her mother-in-law Karen obviously loves sharing the register with her, a younger generation of Terranova women running the front of the store with their husbands running the back of the store. Got to wish Merry Christmas to Jennifer's father-in-law Benny and her husband, Anthony, who handles the duties behind the butcher counter. Read Best of New Orleans coverage of the Terranova Supermarket, Click Here.
Jennifer gave us a red bag which Karen told us that Jenny had designed for the store, and filled it with a full box of Stage Planks for me, which she and Karen know I like. I gave Carla and Patrick one Stage Plank each to gnosh on while we found a place to eat. These ginger bread bakery items have been a snack staple in New Orleans since I was a kid when they were nearly twice the size as now. We headed down Esplanade to the river, but driving through the French Quarter during holiday time is very slow and problematic. The traffic was completely stopped on Decatur, so I looped off to the right past Bourbon and back down to Conti, a couple of blocks left, and into the parking spot I had originally planned to use. $10 for the day and we walked directly to the Acme Oyster House and had a hot meal. My oyster po-boy was good, but I also wanted the crawfish etouffe which sounded good. Better service than Felix's across the street.The art exhibit I wanted to show them, Prospect.1, was closed as were many other attractions, being a Monday. We walked to Café du Monde which had its heavy weather curtains pulled down around the covered porch seating, but we chose to sit inside on the frigid day of 42 degrees and wind chill of about 25. Very unusual to sit inside — hardly ever go to Quarter on such a cold day. We all had a lot of fun eating beignets. Molly told her mom, Carla, when she heard about us eating beignets, "I'm mad at you!" which indicated how much she enjoyed our day at Café du Monde with her a couple of years ago. We were having fun and beignets and she was stuck in even colder Anchorage, Alaska, visiting her dad for the holidays. Carla insisted we make some photos to show Molly the fun we were having, especially featuring the beignets, and that made it fun. There were photos of us with powdered sugar from the beignets on our noses, and Carla and Patrick sharing a sugar-covered beignet in a photo that resembled the obligatory wedding-cake feeding ritual of local weddings.Then we visited the cathedral to sit and wait for the concert, but we were all tired, and wanted to go back home, so we did. They packed up their stuff, and after another short visit to warm up, headed out in the frigid air to her sister Maureen's to visit and spend the night. A very enjoyable visit.
For Christmas Eve, the weather had warmed up a bit, and it was the first time we haven't had some place to go to open presents, since Buster is alone and not hosting the event, so we decided to drive up the east bank of the river road through Gramercy, Lutcher, and Paulina to view the lighting of the Christmas bonfires, a centuries old tradition of local Cajuns and German settlers along the riverside. It was not one bonfire, but several hundred huge bonfires, each about 50 feet high, located about a hundred yards (meters) apart on the top of the Mississippi River levee. They were all set on fire promptly at 7 PM, and we arrived at the start of the lineup of bonfires at 6:54. The traffic was slowed to less than 5 mph, which was fine as we could watch them as they were lit up along the way. Thousands of people lined both sides of the river road, parties were in the front of every house, BBQ grills were fired up, police were directing traffic, fire trucks stood at the ready just in case, and smoke billowed down from the levee from the beginning fires. I had to take dozens of photos just to get one good photo of a bonfire to show you in my digest. I hope you enjoy it. It was quite a spectacle and Del and I enjoyed it. On the return trip, we took a short cut, stopped at McDonald's for a rest stop, some hot fudge sundaes and a coke ICEE.
Del and I opened our presents together. Big surprise for me was the Hotei sculpture for the N. Portico Bamboo garden from Del. Big surprise for her was the colorful jacket she had admired but thought it was too expensive to buy for herself. We drove to see Del's mom Doris and open presents.Next on to Sharon and Dave's where we got to meet his older brother Bill and his wife Maryann who had children with Jerry Randle as his first wife. She and Jerry stood with Del when she got married to her first husband.
I received from Del a Madden 2009 Football. Set it up for a Saints home game, and it's like being in the Superdome during a game. Incredible graphics and HD resolution on the plasma screen. As we were learning to play it, my brother Steve called to say Dad was back in the hospital. He had collapsed in a shivering fit. We decided to go to the St. Charles General Hospital to see him. Janet and Tommy were there, as were Fran and Jeff and her parents who live in the Mimosa area. Also Harry Morrell and his father Papa Harry who had been admitted for possible blood clot but was released. Del and I got to sit in the ER with daddy, all hooked up to machines. Natalie was his young nurse. When all the tests came back negative, and Natalie told us they'd be keeping him overnight, we said goodbye and drove home.
At night we watched a movie at home of the Christmas events on the front lines during that year of the Great War, so appropriate for a Christmas night, "Joyeux Noel" (2005) (Fröhe Weihnachten, Merry Christmas.)During a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of the Great War in 1914, spontaneous cease-fires broke out among the troops dug in along the stalemated front-lines. This is the story of one of them. Germans, Scots, and Frenchmen, singing carols, sharing drinks, chocolate, and showing each other photos of their wives on Christmas Eve, then meeting on the next day to bury their dead, followed by card games and soccer. What to do when the German commander hears that an artillery barrage of his enemy troops is coming in ten minutes? An amazing and heart-warming story of a time when the troops decided to befriend their enemies. Here, met on the battlefield were French and Germans speaking peace to Englishmen, all three of my cultural heritages meeting each other as friends. AFTER CHRISTMAS
Del looked up the Fairgrounds races for todayDec. 26th and discovered that Tiffany Marie is running as No. 8 in race 8 at the track, Post Time is 4:54 and we plan to be at the Finish Line to make a bet on the race. Duke and Pam are celebrating his birthday at the Track today, and Eric Heitzman and his lady Carmel from the English Midlands (Birmingham) are the trainers. That, plus our granddaughter being named Tiffany and Marie the name of all of her aunts and mother, we decided we must bet on the race.
We decided to skip the racetrack today, but to go to Home Depot to buy some plants, tools, and light bulbs and then stop by the Finish Line an Off Track Betting place in the same shopping center to place our bets. As luck would have it, the race went off an hour earlier than the internet listed post time, and Tiffany Marie finished in fourth place out of the money. Or else Del would have won a bit, betting her to Show and I would have lost my money betting her to Win.
The next day, Del's brother Dan came by with his wife Karen after picking his mother, Doris, and we opened our presents in our living room and visited a while before going to the Bon Ton Restaurant downtown for dinner, a nice Christmas meal together on Dick Richards’ 91st birthday, Dec 27. We all toasted Del's dad and then our meals came. I had the crawfish bisque with authentic stuffed heads and it was delicious, good rich, dark sauce. Also seafood gumbo and shrimp remoulade. Could have skipped the remoulade. Not Galatoire’s quality, everything else first class. Pecan crunch ice cream shared with Karen was okay. A nice Christmas meal together on their father Dick Richards’ 91st birthday.
By the 28th of December, I was quickly running out of time to finish my Digest for the end of the month when my son Robert and his new wife Kathryn arrived with his three children, Sierra, Walden, and Emerson.We enjoyed their visit, during which I took some time out to type some of these ending notes. Gramma Del made Eggs in Toast (Eggs in a Hole) for everyone, then she left to make some appointments and Rob and his crew headed to his sister, Maureen's house across the river. We took them downtown to the Children's Museum in the morning, then rode the Lady in Red streetcar to the French Quarter, listened to some live jazz in Jackson Square, ate lunch at Pontalba Cafe with great view of the Square, then visited the Cathedral of St. Louis and sat down for some coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde. It was Kathryn's first trip back to New Orleans since she was about seven, and she really enjoed the jazz, the beignets, and the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of New Orleans. The eighth of our children, Yvette and her family, stopped by on New Year's Eve for a quick visit on their return trip to Bellaire, TX near Houston. They are on the way back from a holiday visit to Greg’s family in Michigan. We gave Evelyn and Aidan some Honeybell oranges to such through a peppermint stick, and allowed them to pick four of the oranges to take home with them. Yvette and Greg will drive to visit their Papa Buster in the hospital and then stop by her sister, Maureen's house in Metairie, before heading down the I-10 corridor for a visit with her other sister, Carla, in Beaumont and home at last. I'm typing these last notes for 2008 about 1 pm on the 31st, Del is taking her mother and herself to a hair appointment and will return about four PM. As for New Year's Eve night, we’re opting to stay home, and watch the LSU Bowl Game as the Fighting Tigers give new meaning to the Rambling Wrecks from Georgia Tech!IMPORTANT MESSAGE:
Till next month, next year, when, through the Grace of God, we strive boldly into the New Year of 2009, full of expectations, we will return to these pages with more original photos, reviews, cartoons, Cajun jokes, and other things to help make your life worth living to the fullest extent than I am able.
HAPPY NEW YEAR to ALL! ! ! !
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New Quotes Added to quotes.htm this month:
- Those are my principles. If you don't like them I have others.
Groucho Marx ( 20th Century American Philosopher )
- Never assume the obvious is true.
— William Safire
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New Stuff about Website: Five Quantum Reality Reviews from A Reader's Journal, Vol. 1:
1. Itzhak Bentov's A Cosmic Book — On the Mechanics of Creation
In this follow-up book to Ben's famous first book, "Stalking the Wild Pendulum," he with his wife Mirtala continues his exploration of consciousness and the universe. He creates a universe of bubble universes - a cosmic foam model for reality. His ovoid torus model of the universe is lent considerable credibility by the discovery of the anisotropy in the distribution of quasi-stellar-objects ( QSO's) in the celestial sphere. QSO's would be miniature "chip's off the old block" of the big bang in Ben's terminology: a white hole pouring out creation into one side of the torus while sucking it in through a black hole on the opposite side. Thus we have a continuous big-bang model of creation which makes more sense to me than a one-time Big Bang.
Ben's concept of Self as an illusion that disappears when we finally re-incorporate the projection is priceless and right in line with Jung's thesis as I understand it. If we add to this Jung's concept of Self as the "O" in UFO, then we can understand why UFO's are so plentiful and yet disappear upon closer inspection.
It is sad that this brilliant, creative mind would be taken from us so soon after his first book was just getting wide distribution (Ben died in the DC-10 crash in Chicago). I'm sorry I didn't get to know him personally, but I did read "Stalking..." while he was still alive.
Wherever Ben is now we can all be sure that he is still "stalking the wild pendulum" somewhere in the cosmic foam. The spirit he created lives on in such writers as LeShan, Dossey, and Fred Alan Wolf and we readers strive to understand with them the scope of the universe and the consciousness that pervades us and it.
In "Mystery Suspended Among Infinities," a meditation in Laura Huxley's Between Heaven and Earth, we are encouraged to allow our consciousness to expand to the limits of time and space. In Ben's cosmology we have only expanded to the limits of one of the bubbles in the cosmic foam when we do this. To Ben somewhere floating in his own cosmic bubble, I say "G'day Mate!"
2. Richard Feynmann's QED — The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
Friends that I went through physics with who used to think physics was boring would be saying, "where was this guy when I needed him?", after reading Feynmann's lecture on QED (quantum electrodynamics). He covers in simple, non-mathematical form the content of several courses in senior level college physics. Separated from the obscure mathematics by Feynmann the form of the electron/photon universe pops out of the quantum noise into a beautiful symmetrical simplicity.
Feynmann's three laws of QED are as simple and straightforward as Newton's three laws of motion (and ought to be equally enshrined by the name Feynmann's three laws):
I. A photon goes from place to place.
II. An electron goes from place to place.
III. An electron emits or absorbs a photon.
From these "laws" one can deduce all the multiplicity of phenomena of QED just as from Newton's laws one can deduce all the phenomena of classical mechanics.
In the place of frequencies and higher mathematical integral functions, Feynmann substitutes the simple stopwatch as an arrow concept. From this humble start he builds the concept of amplitude and multiplying (squaring) amplitudes to produce probabilities that match the experimental results.
This small book could be a textbook for a college course in QED or as an adjunct to the more traditional texts in use. There is one caveat, however, it would take another Richard Feynmann to know how to use it as a textbook.
One receives a bargain for the price of this book, because it is several books in one cover, each book worth the admission price: it is a book of the history of QED, it is a book of humor, it is a book of novel insights into QED, and it is a love letter the science of physics by a man deeply enthralled by his beloved.
3. N. Katherine Hayles's The Cosmic Web — Scientific Field Models and Literary Strategies in the Twentieth Century
In this marvelous synthesis of art and science, Hayles spins a web of quantum and relativistic field theories and catches in it Robert Pirsig, D. H. Lawrence, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, and Thomas Pynchon.
Pirsig is drawn to the web to do motorcycle maintenance on his zen. On a trip of eternal return to the sea Robert and his son Chris meet the Buddha on the road and run him over with their motorcycle. In a key passage Pirsig discusses how we are like a man who takes a handful of sand and calls it the world. In truth we must include the man with sand in hand and his surroundings in our picture of the world. Hayles shows us in Pirsig's work the first glimpse of the innate recursiveness of the universe we live in.
Once we accept this basic premise of recursiveness, Lawrence is a natural next step with his "subjective science." Like the new age channels Ramatha, Seth, and Lazaris, Lawrence appeals to us to verify the truth of statements by appealing to our own unconscious centers. Lawrence's two great tensions: "the polarity between the spiritual and sensual in the vertical plane; and the polarity between union and autonomy on the horizontal plane" remind me of Jung's four functions as I draw them in the following diagram (Lawrence's polarities are in parentheses):
In Nabokov's Ada, we find a nearly perfect symmetry in the lives of Ada and Van with just enough asymmetry to resist complete synthesis. The tensions in Ada are symmetry and asymmetry — a fitting metaphor for which is the web.
In Jorge Luis Borges we find Cantor's infinite series and endless turnings in strange loops. Borges does not accept that the paradoxes of self-referential systems can be solved — but rather intrigues us with the notion that, mirroring reality, their insolvability indicates that nothing is real.
Finally bending toward the point of no return in our cosmic web, we are ensnared by Thomas Pynchon. Like a web, Gravity's Rainbow can appear to some to be a "chaotic mass" and to others to have a "pervasive pattern." The two polarities that pervade Pynchon's work are the centrifugal (flying apart) and the centripetal (returning to center). Whether there is enough mass extant in the universe to one day reverse the expansion remains too close for cosmologists to call — in Pynchon's work we find a similar ambivalence.4. Fred Alan Wolf's The Body Quantum — The New Physics of Body, Mind, and Health
Ten years since his first book, Fred is still taking the "Quantum Leap." This time he leaps into the human body — a universal subject since every reader is guaranteed to have one ( or most of one). The subject is applied quantum physics — applied to the body. The center of the book is devoted to how the various components of the body receive and exchange energy with their surroundings. If you've ever wondered how the energy in a peanut butter sandwich gets transformed into the motor energy of hogging, this book's for you.
If you've ever wondered why the first ten pounds on a diet come off so much quicker than the last ten pounds, this book's for you.If you'd like a computer program that would tell you the exact amount of food and exercise that would permit you to achieve your ideal weight and stay there — this book's for you.
Once Wolf has explained away via physics the mysteries of molecules and metabolism, and just when you think he's about to explain away the process of consciousness the same way, a curious event is observed: the `observer effect' raises her beautiful, enigmatic head. We discover that behind all the materialistic rigmarole of physics lies the concepts of quantum mechanics that can only be termed spiritualistic. What we think and imagine in consciousness becomes a reality as we observe it. At the root of the probabilistic outcomes is a single consciousness, one that, by observing the outcome, collapses the wave function of probabilities into one of many possible outcomes.
In the many-world theory, when an observation is made, the world divides into two parts: in one part the cat in Schrödinger's box is hale and hearty, and in the other world the cat is dead. Thus the living go one living in one world and only appear to die in the other worlds.
A difficult book, but one well worth the effort of study.
5. Danah Zohar's The Quantum Self — Human Nature and Consciousness Defined by the New Physics
An amazing look at how our brain stores emotions as bodily states by the Neurological Researcher, Joseph LeDoux.Much of my early research into the underpinnings of the science of doyletics came from LeDoux's fine work as documented in this book. A must-read for doyletics researchers.
Excerpt from Review:
Emotional memories of all types are with us for life, until they are removed either consciously or unconsciously. Some may be removed unconsciously during the maturation process, and the others may be removed by a conscious doyle trace. Some regulation of the expression of these emotional memories is possible through cognitive therapy, but the permanent removal of recalcitrant and resistant unwanted emotional memories requires a doyle trace. The expression, "indelibly burnt into the brain," reminds me of what, in computers terms, is called a read-only memory or ROM. It can only be read and not written, therefore it stays exactly the same forever. With the advent of doyletics , we must re-examine whether emotional memories in the amygdala are stored as PROM instead, that is, a programmable (changeable) read-only memory, one that is changeable only by some special process, for example, a doylic memory trace, a speed trace.
Movies we watched this past month:Notes about our movies: Many of the movies we watch are foreign movies with subtitles. After years of watching movies in foreign languages, Arabic, French, Swedish, German, British English, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and many other languages, sometimes two or three languages in the same movie, the subtitles have disappeared for us. If the movie is dubbed in English we go for the subtitles instead because we enjoy the live action and sounds of the real voices so much more than the dubbed. If you wonder where we get all these foreign movies from, the answer is simple: NetFlix. For a fixed price a month they mail us DVD movies from our on-line Queue, we watch them, pop them into a pre-paid mailer, and the postman effectively replaces all our gas-consuming and time-consuming trips to Blockbuster. To sign up for NetFlix, simply go to http://www.netflix.com/ and start adding all your requests for movies into your personal queue. If you've seen some in these movie blurbs, simply copy the name, click open your queue, and paste the name in the Search box on NetFlix and Select Add. Buy some popcorn and you're ready to Go to the Movies, 21st Century Style. You get to see your movies as the Director created them — NOT-edited for TV, in full-screen width, your own choice of subtitles, and all of the original dialogue. Often you get the Director's Cut Edition which adds back excellent footage that was cut from the theater releases.Hits (Watch as soon as you can. A Don't Miss Hit is one you might otherwise ignore.):
P. S. Look for HD/DVD format movies which are now available from NetFlix.“Foyle’s War: The Funk Hole, Set2: Disk4, (2003) This was another multifarious episode in which Andrew is shot down in his Spitfire, Chris (DC) Foyle is charged with episonage and relieved of duty, and several murders take place at a “funk hole”, a place where rich folk escape the war. Drew and Sam become a number along the way.
“The Ballad of Little Jo” (1993) sings of a halycon time when cross-dressing was illegal and Josephine couldn’t be alone in the West as a woman, nor could she buy ready-made dresses. To help her disguise, she slices herself a long scar on the side of her face, learns to shoot, and becomes a shepherd to be left alone. Amazing movie, true story, of a woman coping with the mores and lesses of the Old West. A DON’T MISS HIT ! !
“Foyle’s War: The French Drop, Set3: Disk1,” (2003) In this one, the British secret service is serving up dirty tricks to the Germans and to political opponents. Who but the DC to foil their nefarious plans and sabotage his own plans to leave Hastings to assist the war effort?
“Midnight Clear” (1992) a Christmas time movie with Gary Sinise, Ethan Hawke and others as an American patrol in a snowy forest, holded up in a chateau with Germans wanting to surrender to them after celebrating Christmas with them. A telling look at the usually untold horrors of war.
“Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” (2007) Portman & Bateman join Hoffman, the Don’t-be-Late Man who’s on his last pair of shoes, in this magical episode which may become a Christmas classic in years to come. Dustin Hoffman weaves a magical spell as the 234 year old entrepeneur and purveyor of fun for children from toddlers to totterers. A DON’T MISS HIT ! ! ! !
“Joyeux Noel” (2005) (Fröhe Weihnachten, Merry Christmas) During a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of the Great War in 1914, spontaneous cease-fires broke out among the troops dug in along the stalemated front-lines. This is the story of one of them. Germans, Scots, and Frenchmen, singing carols, sharing drinks, chocolate, and showing each other photos of their wives on Christmas Eve, then meeting on the next day to bury their dead, following by card games and soccer. What to do when the German commander hears that an artillery barrage of his enemy troops is coming in ten minutes? An amazing and heart-warming story of a time when the troops decided to befriend their enemies. A DON’T MISS HIT ! ! ! !
“Saints and Sinners” (2004) on both sides of WWII battlefield true story. US POWs massacred except for 4 which escape and meet Brit Pilot with vital photos to win final battle and the five of them run through heavy snow across the German front-line to thousands of other soldiers lives. Better war movie, best movie we’ve seen in several months. A Definite DON’T MISS HIT! ! !
“On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever” (1970) First viewing of this fine movie for both me and Del, maybe you missed it, too. Or saw it when you were so young, that you would not have appreciated it. Ignore the tacky Seventies dress, its antiquated understanding of hypnosis, and a few mushy songs, and you will find this to be a classic! Quote from end of movie: “I’ve found that answers make you wise, while questions make you human.” An open-end look at what it means to be human in body, soul, and spirit. A DON’T MISS HIT ! ! !
Misses (Avoid At All Costs): We attempted to watch these this month, but didn't make it all the way through on most of them. Awhile back when three AAAC horrors hit us in one night, I decided to add a sub-category to "Avoid at All Costs", namely, A DVD STOMPER. These are movies so bad, you don't want anyone else to get stuck watching them, so you want to stomp on the disks. That way, if everyone else who gets burnt by the movie does the same, soon no copies of the awful movie will be extant and the world will be better off.The Assassination of Jesse James (2007) Not even Brad Pitt could save this movie filled with people getting shot, usually in the back. Unfortunately no one took out the director and we have to suffer through a lousy script with beautiful cinematography in HD Blu-Ray.
Your call on these — your taste in movies may differ, but I liked them:“The Land of Plenty” (2005) after 911 had plenty of phobias and no more than in the hero of this movie who was a one-man espionage undercover man. Can this story turn out well for him? Can his niece save him from his mad folly? The song over the ending credits gives a hint in its prayer, “May the light in the land of plenty shine in the truth someday.” Amen
“Two Weeks” (2006) or The Flying Nun goes down. Sally Fields has only two weeks to live and the director wants us to live through her dying along with her three sons and daughter, each of which is handling it badly in individual ways. A lugubrious movie made watchable by spurts of humor.
“Rails & Ties” (2007) Kevin Bacon’s wife is dying and he drives his train into a dying woman who dies and her orphaned son shows up to bring some life to his home and wife, becoming the child she always wanted, but never had, up until now.
Marilyn Hotchkiss's Ballroom Dancing (2005) John Goodman dies in auto crash, but not before he has enough conversation with our hero to give him tickets to Dance Lessons where he is meet his childhood sweetheart after forty years and to tell him and us his life story. Our hero has a story of his own to play out and the tickets help him.
“Millions” (2005) Two boys find a cache of money which flew off a speed train and landed in their cardboard playhouse by the tracks. Altruistically they stuff as much as they can in the Mormon’s house down the street and suddenly the house is filled with big TVs, microwaves, and such. So they burn it on the train tracks and everyone’s happy again. A quirky plot but with enough nice moments to warrant a look-see.
“Stepbrothers” (2008) Two single parents with a 40ish son still living at home marry and the result is chaos as neither son wants to take steps toward a job or move out, but to stay at home and hate their steps, both brother and parent. Can this marriage be saved? Not until the movie is over. Can families who spoil their children learn of their folly from this movie? Maybe in 40 years or so.
“Unstrung Heroes” (1995) Andie MacDowell and John Turturro face her impending death badly and their 12-yr-old son runs away to live with his two bizarre uncles who convert him to Judaism and help him accept his mother’s death. A movie filled with unsung heroes, some of whom come unstrung, some of whom are stung back together.
“Sleuth” an interesting remake of a Harold Pinter story in which Michael Caine plays the older guy this time and Jude Law plays the Caine role from earlier movie with Olivier as older man. A love triangle in which the two guys seek revenge in a series of deadly, deadlier, deadliest games. Tied after two, who will win the third set?
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4. CAJUN STORY:
== == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == ==One day when Marie was a little girl, she went with her father to T-Joe's Barbershop in the small town of Grey, Louisiana. Her father, Theophile, was the only customer in the shop, and he was sitting up in the barber chair, his eyes closed, and the only sound was that of T-Joe's scissors as he trimmed Theophile's hair.
Marie had never seen a barber cut hair from up close before, and she was intrigued by how T-Joe ran the skinny comb up her father's hair, moved his scissors alongside the comb, and snipped away the protruding hair. He did it so swiftly, that his hands were like a blur to her. She stood as close as she could get to the barber chair, and was so enthralled by the snipping and falling of the hair that she stood stockstill, holding her snack cake half-eaten her hand, her brown eyes wide-open at the scene unfolding in front of her. Ever so slowly she began to edge a little closer to the chair.
T-Joe glanced down at her, and, with a tone of concern, said, "Marie, ma cherie, you gonna get hair on your Twinkie."
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5. RECIPE of the MONTH for January, 2009 from Bobby Jeaux’s Kitchen:
(click links to see photo of ingredients, preparation steps)
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Background on Boiled Shrimp:
This will be the simplest instructions for any recipe, and perhaps the most difficult to achieve, but first let me explain what is special about these boiled shrimp.
I was born and raised in South Louisiana and from my earliest childhood I ate boiled seafood: blue crabs, shrimp, ie crawfish. The blue crabs might be caught on a string with a piece of chicken guts and retrieved with a homemade net on pole as the crab cleared the water still holding onto the meat; the shrimp, caught in a homemade castnet thrown by my dad from the steps of the Lake Pontchartrain seawall at night, with a Coleman lantern burning brightly to lure the shrimp, and clams, freshly crushed by my brothers and me with a ball-peen hammer, thrown into the water for taste and smell to attract them; the crawfish, maybe picked up by our gloved hands from the grass on the side of a road along a swampy area (most roads qualify around here) as they crawled to higher gro und after a heavy rain (frequent occurence during warm months), maybe caught in nets baited with chicken guts or other butcher by-products usually discarded (called melts or just bait).
Whether it was a large mess of crabs, shrimp, or crawfish being boiled, they were each boiled in the same way, with the same recipe, the only variation being the amount of time. A box or two of the following: Morton's Salt and Zatarain's Crab Boil, plus various amounts of the following, usually cut in half or quarters: onions, lemons, and garlic. Back then we couldn't afford to add corn, potatoes, and sausage — those were food for the table and not to be wasted in a boiling pot.The focus then was on eating the seafood, and no Cajun wanted to waste time filling up on ancillary food stuffs when setting down to eat boiled crabs, shrimp, or crawfish. Whenever strangers to the area joined us, we'd joke with them half-seriously, telling them to eat a lot of crackers (which we kept available, but rarely ate with the boiled seafood). The seafood was usually a two course meal: boiled seafood and beer. There was never any sauce placed on the table to dip the seafood into. Everybody knew that the seasoning was already cooked into the crabs, shrimp, or crawfish. We accept sauce for dipping raw oysters into, as the oysters were helped by a tangy sauce with a tad of horseradish, lemon, Worcestershire, salt pepper, and Tabasco in a base of ketchup, but like with the crackers, we only offered such sauce for crabs, shrimp, and crawfishes for visitors from up North or any states outside of Louisiana, and we hoped they'd fill up on sauce and leave more seafood for us.
In 1969, I took a job in computers in Los Angeles, and I'll never forget the first night I went to a National Management Association meeting and saw a platter of large boiled shrimp as part of the appetizer table. Beside it was a large bowl of sauce. I figured the sauce was because these were mostly people from outside of Louisiana, so I stuck a toothpick into one of the large shrimp (they called them "prawns" in L. A., but in LA they were just shrimp, large shrimp), and ate one. I was never so surprised in my whole life to discover that shrimp are tasteless! ! ! These shrimp had absolutely no taste to them; unless you dipped them into the cocktail sauce, they tasted like bland white flesh with no taste whatsoever. I was appalled by the waste of good shrimp being prepared with seasoning when they were boiled. This took me some years of getting accustomed to, and I may say that I still haven't. In fact, one of the reasons I finally decided to move back to South Louisiana was to be able to enjoy as an adult the boiled seafood treats of my childhood as an adult.
This recipe is not about how to boil crabs, shrimp, or crawfish, but it is about how to enjoy boiled shrimp in the quickest, easiest, and in the long run cheapest way for two people, and it's the way Del and I enjoy them, most of the time. Yes, we attend seafood boils when invited, and when we find corn, garlic, potatoes, and other veggies boiled in the tangy broth along with sausage, we might taste a piece of corn on the cob, or a small potato, or two, but we focus mainly on the seafood, and find the veggies and sausage don't add anything to the taste experience of the boiled seafood. So, in short, here is how to enjoy boiled shrimp the way we do. Our recipe for good eating. (Note that no cocktail sauce is specified.)
1. Move to New Orleans (unless already in Louisiana, in which case this step can be omitted)
2. Buy boiled shrimp at Rouse's Supermarket (or other neighborhood markets).
Keep in refrigerator till meal time. Open plastic wrap, dump into a nice platter like the one shown which can hold both the shrimp and the peelings as you eat. Peel and eat.
This recipe will also work for crawfish and blue crabs, both of which are also available in season already boiled in a tangy sauce and ready to eat with minimum preparation and clean up time. Neither of which requires a cocktail sauce. Just have lots of paper towels ready in case the phone rings or someone comes to the door while you're eating.
NOTE: If you leave the peeled off heads and shells in the tray, simply wash them into the sink and run them down the garbage disposal. This will keep them from smelling up the garbage can, especially in the warm months. The crab shells must be discarded in the garbage and they will not easily fit into garbage disposals. The best clean up for them is to dump them out on old newspapers and when done, carefully wrap the peelings and crab shells into a bundle and discard. Practice at eating boiled crabs will teach you how many folds of newspaper are necessary to ensure a non-drip transfer to the garbage can.
== == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == ==Poem originally sketched out in the inside rear cover of Old & New Methods of Initiation by Rudolf Steiner in Livorno, Italy on Sept. 20, 2008.
6. POETRY by BOBBY, inspired by Old & New Methods of Initiation:
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The Parlor of Thoughts
The brain is the parlor of thoughts,
where convolutions of neurons
form the parlor’s walls which
hold the linear, abstract thoughts
of intellectualism, the very pallor of thoughts.
Inside the brain’s parlor, the walls of thoughts,
are cavities filled with cerebrospinal fluids
which capture the inspiration and intuition
flowing in from the spiritual world.
Unless the living spirits fill these cavities,
the parlor of the brain remains
like any empty parlor, silent, devoid of life.
The walls of the parlor of the brain
which hold abstract thoughts
were built by the living spirits
flowing through the fluid brain
of the infant in its mother’s womb.
We had a parlor in our 1940 house at 566 Avenue F —
but what was it used for?
Salesmen presented life insurance plans, encyclopedias,
Distant cousins, elderly aunts were entertained,
radio dramas and music stations were listened to,
formal photos of the family were taken,
The annual visit of Santa Claus happened,
presents were laid under the tree,
children peered through the keyhole of the locked parlor door
into the magical room during the long Christmas Night.
The parlor was the passage from the kitchen to the front porch
where neighbors gathered every twilight to talk,
to shell peas, to crotchet,
to watch the kids playing out the day.
The parlor was a hard room, a stage in which soft life played itself out,
a room through which life passed in all seasons of the year,
but rarely stopped to rest, the room in which
Christmas Day played itself happily out.
When the parlor was empty,
the only sounds of life were echoes bouncing in from the
front porch or the kitchen.
An empty parlor has an empty pallor
and can only echo thoughts,
not originate them.
Originating thoughts, new ideas, requires living spirit
and there must be living beings, living spirits,
filling the parlor of the brain to do that.
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7. REVIEWS and ARTICLES for January:
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And for my Good Readers, here’s the new reviews and articles for this month. The ARJ2 ones are new additions to the top of A Reader’s Journal, Volume 2, Chronological List, and the ART ones to A Reader’s Treasury.
1.) ARJ2: Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
In his course "Building Great Sentences" Professor Brooks Landon mentioned this book and I was immediately grabbed by the title, as it suggested that writing is a craft which one can learn to steer. One can see the eponymous craft being steered which graces the cover and the beginning of every chapter. The image remains the same while the words vary both in content and in the waves they create in graceful swooshes across the page. Here are some of my favorite swooshes which grace, illustrate, and support the chapter titles, but to appreciate the effect of the swooshes one will need to buy the book, and then one can see visually such details as in the heading for Chapter 3 the wavy curvature of the swooshed text lessens until it goes flat, level on the page, for the final phrase, "We were becalmed." Note: The slash (/ ) indicates the beginning of another wavy swoosh. One can see the boat, its steerer, and three swooshes on the cover of the book.
Book Cover — Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing/for the Lone Navigator/or the Mutinous Crew
Chapter One — The Sound of Your Writing: She slipped swift as a silvery fish/through the slapping gurgle of the sea-waves.
Chapter Two — Punctuation: Damn the semicolons cried the captain full speed ahead
Chapter Three — Sentence Length and Complex Syntax: The wind died./The sail fell slack./The boat slowed, halted./We were becalmed.
Chapter Four — Repetition: The sudden wind brought rain,/a cold rain on a cold wind.
Chapter Five — Adjective and Adverb: We completed the voyage without succumbing/to the temptation of opening/the box of candy.
Chapter Six — Pronoun and Verb: The old woman dreamed of the past/as she navigated the seas of time.
Chapter Seven — Point of View and Voice: I saw he was lost in his memories, like a boat/that drifts on its own reflection.
Chapter Eight — Changing Point of View: They sailed easily from the past to the present,/but now/they can't get back.
Chapter Nine — Indirect Narration or What Tells: A: lower the topgallants!/B: I will when I find them.
Chapter Ten — Crowding and Leaping: If we dump the ballast we'll be there in no time.
My suggestion when learning something new is to know all about it before you start. With Chapter Headings and the swoosh text already behind us, we are ready to begin our review of this book. Carefully climb into your craft, stand erect, feet apart, and grab the steering pole as I push you gently adrift in the tricky currents of write-water rapids with Ursula Le Guin as your co-pilot.
Under Punctuation, she notes that poet Carolyn Kizer said to her recently, "Poets are interested mostly in death and commas," but adds Le Guin adds her own comment, "Prose writers are interested mostly in life and commas." Then she addresses you with the steering pole in your hand:
[page 31] If you aren't interested in punctuation, or are afraid of it, you're missing out on a whole kit of the most essential, beautiful, elegant tools a writer has to work with.
In other words, you may not be able to steer your craft away from obstacles in the rapids if your punctuation duffle bag is bare or was left onshore as unnecessary baggage. Only with a full kit of grammar tools, can one safely navigate the speedy twists and turns of English or any other language. Socrates knew it to be true about his native Greek when he said, "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." (Page 32) Le Guin has that sentence pinned over her desk where it's been for a long time. It's a sentence which can act as an unanswered question because even if you think you understand immediately upon reading what it means, each exposure to it can infuse you with the energy required to use language and not misuse it. Saying blithely as so many talking heads do on television, ". . . between you and I" does not make it correct. After all if you switch the pronouns and say instead, ". . . between I and you" it sounds blatantly foolish, does it not? One cannot be right without the one being wrong and therefore both must be wrong, it seems to I, er, I mean "me" of course, but you get the idea of what happens when you confuse nominative (I) and objective (me) forms of the personal pronoun singular. Le Guin seems to agree:
[page 32] How we talk is important to us all, and we're all shamed when told in public that we don't talk correctly. Shame can paralyze our minds. Many common misusages are actually overcorrections. People scolded for saying, "It's me" many start saying "Between you and I," because they have an uneasy feeling that me is incorrect, a bad word, to be avoided.
Like Le Guin, I like to push grammar a little bit, just between you and me. But to do that a writer must know what they're doing. There. That was an example of pushing it a bit. One would rightly have to say, "A writer must know what he or she is doing" which is awkward. The plural "they" accomplishes the same result as "he or she" with fewer words and no chance of misunderstanding, if one allows a little push or bending of the grammar rules. Surely one would not want to revert to the grammar rules of several hundred years ago and use male pronouns for both sexes. That practice would have us write such an abomination as Le Guin sarcastically suggests, "If a person needs an abortion, he should be required to tell his parents." (Page 33)
The popular grammar book, "Eats Shoots and Leaves", by Lynn Truss demonstrates the life and death necessary of comma choices. A gunman in a diner might be described as someone who "eats, shoots, and leaves", but a Panda bear's daily diet can be described as he "eats shoots and leaves" and no one is killed in the process. I wondered as I read this next passage which tells the Panda story, whether Lynn Truss was inspired by Le Guin's story to write her book on grammar.
[page 35] I will now tell the Panda Story to illustrate the importance of the presence or the absence of the comma. This panda walked into a tea shop and ordered a salad and ate it. Then it pulled out a pistol, shot the man at the next table dead, and walked out. Everyone rushed after it, shouting, "Stop! Stop! Why did you do that?"
"Because I'm a panda," said the panda. "That's what pandas do. If you don't believe me, look in the dictionary."
So they looked in the dictionary and sure enough they found Panda: Racoon-like animal of Asia. Eats shoots and leaves.
This panda parable operates on many levels, some having nothing to do with grammar, like this one: Some people will only open a dictionary if it's a matter of life and death! My wife Del rarely consulted a dictionary when I first met her, but knowing how competitive she was, I suggested we allow the use of the dictionary in playing Scrabble before one chooses a word to lay down.This made it necessary for us to each have a dictionary available as we both were looking up possible words before our next play. This rule also eliminates the challenge aspect of Scrabble. It had always seemed patently useless to use a dictionary to find a word which may not exist, which is what a challenge to a bad word would require. Instead, if she doesn't think a word I played is a real word, she can ask me what it means, knowing that I just looked up the strange word. This is a much more satisfying way to play Scrabble(1) — we call it simply Matherne's Rules.
The only good sentence is a short sentence. Is that true? And if not true, why do so many English teachers and style books teach writers to use short sentences, to equate clarity with terseness? I had never considered the question fully until taking the course "Building Great Sentences" by Professor Brooks Landon, having cut my writing teeth as a technical writer and a student of Strunk and White(2).Landon gave examples of many long sentences, especially narrative sentences, whose sweep and scope carried one along on a fast moving current, jostling one from one side to another, gut-wrenching swoops down a steep waterfall, water splashing, soaking one through and through, and stopping only when the boat begins to founder, requiring all aboard to begin bailing out as quickly as possible. Ah, narrative sentences! They take on a life of their own as they carry us along in the scene they narrate, always aware that their "chief duty is to lead us to the next sentence." It was my great joy to drop my technical writing preciseness and discover the pleasures and freedom of sprawling cumulative sentences from Prof. Landon's lectures.
Perhaps Le Guin can explain when a short sentence is always a good sentence.
[page 39, 40] Beyond this basic, invisible job, the narrative sentence can do an infinite number of beautiful, surprising, powerful, audible, visible things (see all the examples). But the basic function of the narrative sentence is to keep the story going and keep the reader going with it.
Its rhythm is part of the rhythm of the whole piece; all its qualities are part of the quality and tone of the whole piece. As a narrative sentence, it isn't serving the story well if its rhythm is so unexpected, or its beauty so striking, or its similes. or metaphors. so dazzling, that it stops the reader, even to say Ooh, Ah! Poetry can do that. Poetry can be visibly, immediately dazzling. In poetry a line, a few words, can make the reader's breath catch and her eyes fill with tears. But for the most part, prose sets its proper beauty and power deeper, hiding it in the work as a whole. In a story it's the scene — the setting/ characters/ action/interaction/ dialogue/ feelings — that makes us hold our breath, and cry . . . and turn the page to find out what happens next. And so, until the scene ends, each sentence should lead to the next sentence.
Rhythm is what keeps the song going, the horse galloping, the story moving. Sentence length has a lot to do with the rhythm of prose. So an important aspect of the narrative sentence is — prosaically — its length.
Teachers trying to get school kids to write clearly, and journalists with their weird rules of writing, have filled a lot of heads with the notion that the only good sentence is a short sentence.
This is true for convicted criminals.
If you're not a convicted criminal, but rather a committed writer, then choose your sentence structure, not based on the length, but on the rhythm and meaning you are striving to achieve. Some will be short. Some will take on a life of their own, like that shark you hefted into the boat which lay there for several minutes as though dead, but as soon as you tried to move, began to thrash about, knocking you almost unconscious, and endangering your life, or the possum which your Schnauzer mauled senseless that you were carrying away in a shovel to bury when suddenly you noticed that the dead possum was eyeing your actions carefully.
To end this blurb, here is the sentence I wrote in imitation of Le Guin's model sentence in the blank space at the bottom of the last page. If you wish to say something complex, rest assured that the English tool bag has ample means for you to do so, but a bag of tools is of little use until you learn to handle them with dexterity.
The reader of this copy of Le Guin's "Steering the Craft" and my words might be going to have lived a long, long time from now as I write this marginalia flying home to New Orleans from Southern California.
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2.) ARJ2: On Being Blue — A Philosophical Inquiry by William Gass
On being blue is the subject of this philosophical inquiry by William Gass, but I read it primarily because of his wonderful cumulative sentences. The very first sentence will illustrate the structure of a cumulative sentence with the base clause "blue has become their color" near last, as well as leap into the subject of being blue. My marginalia reminds me that I was flying on Delta, whose deep blue of its triangular logo can well be called Delta Blue, perhaps the only blue missed in Gass's encyclopedic coverage of things, feelings, and metaphors blue.
[page 3, 4] Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshoremen, that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear; the rotten rum or gin they call blue ruin and the blue devils of its delirium; Russian cats and oysters, a withheld or imprisoned breath, the blue they say that diamonds have, deep holes in the ocean and the blazers which English athletes earn that gentlemen may wear; afflictions of the spirit — dumps, mopes, Mondays — all that's dismal — lowdown gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; the rare blue dahlia like that blue moon shrewd things happen only once in, or the call for trumps in whist (but who remembers whist or what the death of unplayed games is like?), and correspondingly the flag, Blue Peter, which is our signal for getting under way; a swift pitch, Confederate money, the shaded slopes of clouds and mountains, and so the constantly increasing absentness of Heaven (ins Blaue hinein, the Germans say), consequently the color of everything that's empty: blue bottles, bank accounts, and compliments, for instance, or, when the sky's turned turtle, the blue-green bleat of ocean (both the same), and, when in Hell, its neatly landscaped rows of concrete huts and gas-blue flames; social registers, examination booklets, blue bloods, balls, and bonnets, beards, coats, collars, chips, and cheese . . . the pedantic, indecent and censorious . . . watered twilight, sour sea: through a scrambling of accidents, blue has become their color, just as it's stood for fidelity.
All one magnificent sentence. Spreading over two pages of the small paperback book with the deep blue cover. What a gas! What a Gass! A laic litany to blue. An autobiography of blue. Blue memories. Blue books. Blue pamphlets and the blue memories they contain.
[page 4] There was another, I remember, that reproduced the wartime speeches of Woodrow Wilson in a type which sometimes sagged toward the bottom of the page as though weakened by the weight of the words above.
Did Gass love Wilson's weighty prose or what he spoofing it? Was the sagging descriptive or was it metaphoric? In a philosophical inquiry, one can not stop to query the author about such matters, one can only read on, and with Gass, one reads on in awesome wonder. One is passing by a jewelry store at night, marveling at the diamonds, rubies, emeralds, a rainbowed array sparkling out from the platinum and gold settings of rings, earrings, necklaces, and queen-ready tiaras.
Were they blue stones which Molloy famously sucked at the beach under Beckett's direction? Or was the sucking action of the desperate Molloy a blue action? Or does Gass quote long sections of Beckett's novel, "Molloy" because what Molloy does with his sixteen stones is isomorphic to what Gass does with the word "blue" in this philosophy inquiry: he sucks on one meaning, then another, then another, some only by mention, others by rolling on his tongue and ours as we read, until we remove it to another pocket, and replace it with another blue stone upon which to suck for a time, under Gass's direction.
[page 8, 9] Molloy: I took advantage of being at the seaside to lay in a store of sucking stones. They were pebbles but I call them stones. . . . I distributed them equally between my four pockets, and sucked them turn and turn about. This raised a problem which I first solved in the following way. I had say sixteen stones, four in each of my four pockets these being the two pockets of my trousers and the two pockets of my greatcoat. Taking a stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, and putting it in my mouth, I replaced it in the right pocket of my greatcoat by a stone from the right pocket of my trousers, which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my trousers, which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my greatcoat, which I replaced by the stone which was in my mouth, as soon as I had finished sucking it. Thus there were still four stones in each of my four pockets, but not quite the same stones. . . . But this solution did not satisfy me fully. For it did not escape me that, by an extraordinary hazard, the four stones circulating thus might always be the same four. In which case, far from sucking the sixteen stones turn and turn about, I was really only sucking four, always the same, turn and turn about.
Gass: Beckett is a very blue man, and this is a very blue passage. Several brilliant pages are devoted to the problem. The penultimate solution requires that fifteen stones be kept in one pocket at a time, and moved together — all the stones, that is, which are not being sucked. There is, however, an unwelcome side effect: that of having the body weighted down, on one side, with stones.
Molloy: . . . I felt the weight of the stones dragging me now to one side, now to the other. So it was something more than a principle I abandoned, when I abandoned the equal distribution, it was a bodily need. But to suck the stones in the way I have described, not haphazard, but with method, was also I think a bodily need. Here then were two incompatible bodily needs, at loggerheads. Such things happen. But deep down I didn't give a tinker's curse(1) about being off my balance, dragged to the right hand or the left, backwards and forwards. And deep down it was all the same to me whether I sucked a different stone each time or always the same stone, until the end of time. For they all tasted exactly the same.
Everyone remembers the nursery rhyme from childhood, "The House That Jack Built", with its plethora of thes: this is the cat that lived in the house . . . etc, the thes marching on with an incessant drum beat, line after line, a Bolero for toddlers, the partridge in a pear tree replaced by the house that Jack built, marking the end of another extended litany of things associated with Jack and his house. Gass calls this repetition of the's as having "nouns all nailed too firmly to their thes" and offers a passage from Virginia Woolf as an example in prose.
[page 33] Meanwhile the shadows lengthened on the beach; the blackness deepened. The iron black boot became a pool of deep blue. The rocks lost their hardness. The water that stood round the old boat was dark as if mussels had been steeped in it. The foam had turned livid and left here and there a white gleam of pearl on the misty sand.
Ever been befuddled by a word? I was by the verb "fuddle" and learned that it is a transitive verb, means "to make stupid with drink or to confuse". Right now I feel a certain exhilaration using fuddle for the first time. No longer will the appearance of this word fuddle me; I can boldly write: "Ever been fuddled by a word?" and not repeat unnecessarily the verb to be. Why am I using that word? Because it appears in this wonderful passage where Polish-born Joseph Conrad reckons that in writing English lacks the precision of his native Prussian.
[page 41] Conrad also rather bitterly complained, regarding the precision of his elected language, that writing in English was like throwing mud at a wall. But blueness fuddles every tongue like wine.
SPLAT! . . . See, Joe, it works, no mother-fuddling around.
Gass imagines acquiring the fabled ring of invisibility, something any teenage boy would love to possess, but few teenage boys have ever done the analysis of what that feat might enable them to do with the alacrity that Gass has in Chapter IV. He takes us onto an imaginary trip, invisible like him, into the home of his buxomy neighbor with the fat husband who wears both belts and suspenders. Here a tidbit of his trip to tantalize you and inform those still in their teenagership. His final advice is along the lines of if you want perfection, read fiction.
[page 84, 85] Books whose blueness penetrates the pages between their covers are books which, without depriving us of the comfort of our own commode or the sight of our liberal selves, place us inside a manufactured privacy. This privacy is really not that of someone else. It must be artificial because the real world plainly bores us. Impatient, we can't wait for nature to take its course. When we take our textual tour through the slums, we want crime, violence, starvation, disease, not hours of just sitting around. We want the world to be the world we read about in the papers: all news. What good is my ring if the couple I am using it to spy on make love in darkness once a month, and then are quick, inept, and silent? Better rob banks. The money is always there. What good is my peek at her pubic hair if I must also see the red lines made by her panties, the pimples on her rump, broken veins like the print of a lavender thumb, the stepped-on look of a day's-end muff? I've that at home. No. Vishnu is blue in all his depictions. Lord Krishna too. Yes. The blue we bathe in is the blue we breathe. The blue we breathe, I fear, is what we want from life and only find in fiction. For the voyeur, fiction is what's called going all the way.
Gass ends the book with advice to the writer, advice which spins itself out across several pages, unwinding like a ball of blue yarn bouncing across the living room, glancing off the ottoman, rolling under the dining room, caroming into the kitchen, hitting the mirror-sided, no-fingerprint trash bin, and unreeling itself into the hallway where the cat begins to pounce upon it, sending down the stairs into basement with the cat bounding after it, where it rolls under the Chinese-blue MG TD sports car, exits the other side and rolls out down the sloping driveway until it unspools into nothing, in other words, one long, delicious cumulative sentence about things blue, one last chance to complete the litany of blue, like filling the last few inches of a milk bottle with blue M&Ms, before sealing it for the Elementary School contest of Guess How Many M&Ms are in the bottle. A book that is colored blue and filled with blue lore — in which you can read about blue till you're blue in the face — there's no possible way that it could end except with everything blue.
[page 89, 91] So to the wretched writer I should like to say that there's one body only whose request for your caresses is not vulgar, is not unchaste, untoward, or impolite: the body of your work itself; for you must remember that your attentions will not merely celebrate a beauty but create one; that yours is love that brings its own birth with it, just as Plato has declared, and that you should therefore give up the blue things of this world in favor of the words which say them:blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshoremen, that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear. . . chant and pray, since the day may begin badly, in a soggy light that moistens the soul before consciousness has cracked so every thought is damp as an anxious forehead, desire won't spark, and the morning prick is limp. . . consequently speak and praise, for the fall of the spirit, descending like a diver toward the floor of the ocean, is marked by increasing darkness, green giving way to navy, then a hair-wide range of hues which come to rest, among snowing fish and plants pale as paper, in a sightless night; and our lines are long when under water, loose and weedy, turning back upon themselves like the legs of a dying spider; we grow slack of feature in our melancholy, and the blue which marks the change is heavy, thick as ooze. . . so shout and celebrate before the shade conceals the window: blue bloods, balls, and bonnets, beards, coats, collars, chips, and cheese. . .while there is time and you are able, because when blue has left the edges of its objects as if the world were bleached of it, when the wide blue eye has shut down for the season, when there's nothing left but language. . . watered twilight, sour sea. . . don't find yourself clergy'd out of choir and chorus. . . sing and say. . . despite the bellyache and loneliness, new bumpled fat and flaking skin and drunkenness and helpless rage, despite dumps, mopes, Mondays, sheets like dirty plates, tomorrow falling toward you; like a tower, lie in wait for that miraculous moment when in your mouth teeth turn into dragons and you do against the odds what Demosthenes did by the Aegean: shape pebbles into syllables and make stones sound; thus cautioned and encouraged, commanded, warned, persist. . . even though the mattress where you mourn's been tipped and those comers where the nickels roll slide open like a slot to swallow them, clocks slow, and there's been perhaps a pouring rain, or factory smoke, an aging wind and winter air, and everything is gray.
Okay, I was wrong. Or maybe life starts out blue for Gass and turns gray when he, like the winter air, turns gray. What will never turn gray is the freshness of his writing, which as I type these last words in, my attention is called to these words underlined in red by my Word Perfect software because they don't exist in its already large spelling dictionary or my even larger local word set: clergy'd, bumples, unspooled, stickinesss, absentness, cyanosis, unplayed, absentness, whoreship, and thes. These are some of the clumps of mud which Gass threw at the wall, and we enjoyed every SPLAT!
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3.) ARJ2: San Michele by Axel Munthe
When Del & I visited Axel Munthe's home, it seemed like the jewel in the crown of the island of Capri, situated in Anacapri, the small town at the top of the island. We first glimpsed it as a white wall at the tip of the mountain from the piazza where we disembarked the ferry from Sorrento on the mainland. As we wound our way in the tour bus over the sinuous road to the top, the emerald waters of Capri came into view as the beach slowly widened and fell away, till it was a thousand feet below us. As I gazed out the window of the bus towards the sea, I couldn't glimpse the edge of the road, the tiny chained barrier, or any of the trees on the mountainside, only beach sand and multi-hued water in shades of green and blue. The next time I saw the beach and water again was looking out over that white wall from the San Michele chapel of Axel Munthe's magnificent house. To the right of my viewpoint was the eponymous statue of Mi-cha-el the Archangel looking at me from his niche which marked the end of the walkway around his chapel. To the left, on the white parapet sat the granite Sphinx looking over Capri, carved unknown millennia ago in a land across the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt, its several ton bulk transported to Italy by one of the Caesars, perhaps by Julius as a gift from Cleopatra, perhaps by Tiberius who built his summer home on the very foundation of San Michele, but most likely by Nero who built a villa in Calabria on the mainland beneath whose ruins, Axel saw the Sphinx in a dream and decades later recovered the sculpture from the desolate ground along a coast of high cliffs at great peril to his life, and transported it, carrying it up the 777 Phoenicians steps to Anacapri and placing it upon a white-washed promontory jutting from the wall of the San Michele chapel.
We walked through Munthe's home, seeing antiquities he excavated with his own hands as he personally, with several local workers' help, built this home and now museum. Tiberius instructed his home on this site to be built, but Axel actually designed and built this home. Was this Swedish doctor an architect? No. He had never designed a building of any kind before, more intent on saving people from dying of diphtheria or cholera or consumption, not constructing houses. He never drew an overall plan, but worked on a vision he had and modified it daily with crude sketches of the day's work ahead of him and his helpers. "Books on architecture don't build buildings, people do," he said to one of his friends who wondered about the worthiness of his endeavor.
Someone called this book the story of Death, and maybe it is so, Axel writes, after all, he has been wrestling with Death for so long, his companion at the bedside during the plague of cholera in Naples as a young man when he watched, administered what he could, and waited as so many died. He personified Death, talked to him, and drew comfort from his presence at times when he was alone but for him, with otherwise only the dying for company.
[page ii] I have been wrestling so long with my grim colleague; always defeated I have seen him slay one by one all those I have tried to save. I have had a few of them in mind in this book as I saw them live, as I saw them suffer, as I saw them lie down to die. It was all that I could do for them.
But Axel had lots of company in his long life, as a reader of his book will discover. In the Preface, he imagines seeing them active in Heaven in ways similar to how he saw them when they were alive in his world. None so prominent as the Italian postman, a female letter carrier who climbed from Capri to Anacapri every day to deliver letters to Axel and the few other people in the small town. They provide a perspective of his life in a nutshell, a chance to know all about Axel Munthe before reading the book — these were the people who loved the good Dr. Munthe, among many others.
[page ii, iii] They were all humble people, no marble crosses stand on their graves, many of them were already forgotten long before they died. They are all right now. Old Maria Porta Lettere, who climbed the 777 Phoenician steps for thirty years on her naked feet with my letters, is now carrying the post in Heaven, where dear old Pacciale sits smoking his pipe of peace, still looking out over the infinite sea as he used to do from the pergola of San Michele, and where my friend Archangelo Fusco, the street-sweeper in Quartier Montparnasse, is still sweeping the stardust from the golden floor.Down the stately peristyle of lapis lazuli columns struts briskly little Monsieur Alphonse, the doyen of the Little Sisters of the Poor, in the Pittsburgh millionaire's brand new frock coat, solemnly raising his beloved top hat to every saint he meets, as he used to do to "all my friends when he drove down the Corso in my victoria. John, the blue-eyed little boy who never smiled, is now playing lustily with lots of other happy children in the old nursery of the Bambino. He has learnt to smile at last. The whole room is full of flowers, singing birds are flying in and out through the open windows, now and then the Madonna looks in to see that the children have all they want. John's mother, who nursed him so tenderly in venue des Villiers, is still down here. I saw her the other day. Poor Flopette, the harlot, looks ten years younger than when I saw her in the night-café on the boulevard; very tidy and neat in her white dress, she is now second housemaid to Mary Magdalen.
This may be the memoirs of a doctor, but of no usual doctor. Here was a doctor who administered his potions to others, but when he came down with insomnia, nothing helped, and "a man cannot live without sleep."
[page xi] When I ceased to sleep I began to write this book, all milder remedies having failed. It has been a great success so far as I am concerned. Over and over again I have blessed Henry James for his advice. I have been sleeping much better of late. It has even been a pleasure to me to write this book, I no longer wonder why so many people are taking to writing books in our days.
Axel is not name-dropping or talking about something he read in a book by Henry James, no way, Henry was a friend of his who gave him the advice in person. A list of Axel's friends would read like a Who's Who of his time. He doesn't name the unexpected visitor who sat down across from him at his writing table when he started this book, pestering him and saying he had built San Michele, not Axel, and he was going to live there forever. Axel asked him to leave him alone and let him write about San Michele and the precious marble fragments of Tiberius he has rescued.
[page xii] "Poor old man," said the young fellow with his patronizing smile, "you are talking through your hat! I fear you cannot even read your own handwriting! It is not about San Michele and your precious marble fragments from the villa of Tiberius you have been writing the whole time, it is only some fragments of clay from your own broken life that you have brought to light."
By this time, some of you, who skip over Forewords, Introductions, and Prefaces in any book, may be wondering about why a reviewer would spend so much time writing about the Preface of a book, thinking "Why don't you get on with reviewing the book?" The answer should seem clear: Axel has reviewed some essential aspects of his book in these two Prefaces I have quoted from and done so with a compactness and verve that I can only hope to match in the remainder of my review.
As a young man Axel landed on the Isle of Capri and was immediately taken by the mountain and had to climb it. It would be decades yet before he would return to live on the top of the mountain, but a time wave from the future had hit him and held him in thrall(1). It was a feeling so powerful that his fifteen-year-old female guide to Capri could not talk him out of it.
[page 4] Towering over the friendly little village the somber outline of Monte Solaro stood out against the Western sky with its stern crags and inaccessible cliffs."
I want to climb that mountain at once," said I.
But Gioia did not like the idea at all. A steep path, seven hundred and seventy-seven steps, cut in the rock by Timberio himself led up the flank of the mountain, and half-way up in a dark cave lived a ferocious werewolf who had already eaten several cristiani. On the top of the stairs was Anacapri, but only gente di montagna lived there, all very bad people; no forestieri ever went there and she herself had never been there. Much better climb to the Villa Timberio, or the Arco Naturale or the Grotta Matromania!
His youth did not serve him well at first, as he needed to intern in the real world and find out what was wrong with people was not so important as what he told them was wrong with them. In this next passage we catch our glimpse of his sense of humor. His private practice opened him to a set of people that he had never met in the hospital as an intern. There were people who came in with a laundry list of complaints and didn't want the diagnosis to be something trivial.
[page 32] They seemed quite upset when I told them that they looked rather well and their complexion was good, but they rallied rapidly when I added that their tongue looked rather bad-as seemed generally to be the case. My diagnosis, in most of these cases was over-eating, too many cakes or sweets during the day or too heavy dinners at night. It was probably the most correct diagnosis I ever made in those days, but it met with no success. Nobody wanted to hear anything more about it, nobody liked it. What they all liked was appendicitis. Appendicitis was just then much in demand among better-class people on the look-out for a complaint. All the nervous ladies had got it on the brain if not in the abdomen, thrived on it beautifully, and so did their medical advisers. So I drifted gradually into appendicitis and treated a great number of such cases with varied success. But when the rumor began to circulate that the American surgeons had started on a campaign to cut out every appendix in the United States, my cases of appendicitis began to fall off in an alarming way.
Cutting out an appendix! That would never do for these patients. As one doctor said, "I never heard such nonsense! Why, there is nothing wrong with their appendices, I ought to know, I who have to examine them twice a week. I am dead against it." Dr. Axel was learning about human nature, and being paid well by the volunteers who showed up at his office to be examined.
[page 33] It soon became evident that appendicitis was on its last legs, and that a new complaint had to be discovered to meet the general demand. The Faculty was up to the mark, a new disease was dumped on the market, a new word was coined, a gold coin indeed, C O L I T I S! It was a neat complaint, safe from the surgeon's knife, always at hand when wanted, suitable to everybody's taste. Nobody knew when it came, nobody knew when it went away. I knew that several of my far-sighted colleagues had already tried it on their patients with great success, but so far my luck had been against me.
When a young Countess came to him positive that she had appendicitis and Dr. Axel assured her it was not. She sobbed when told that, wanting to know what it was. He told her to be brave and to stay calm and revealed to her reluctantly that it was colitis.
[page 34] Colitis! That is exactly what I always thought! I am sure you are right! Colitis! Tell me what is colitis?" I took good care to avoid that question, for I did not know it myself, nor did anybody else in those days. But I told her it lasted long and was difficult to cure, and I was right there. The Countess smiled amiably at me. And her husband who said it was nothing but nerves!
The cure required she return to the good doctor twice a week, but that was not soon enough for her as she returned the very next day. Axel was stunned by the change in her appearance, so cheerful and bright, and asked what she wanted. Well, she wanted to know if colitis was catching. Seems like she was concerned about her husband and wanted the good doctor to tell him it was safer if they do not sleep in the same room. Soon, Axel was able to report that the twice a week sessions were doing her good. "It was evident that colitis suited her better than appendicitis, her face had lost its languid pallor and her big eyes sparkled with youth." (Page 40)
[page 50] What is confidence? Where does it come from, from the head or from the heart? Does it derive from the upper strata of our mentality or is it a mighty tree of knowledge of good and evil with roots springing from the very depths of our being? Through what channels does it communicate with others? Is it visible in the eye, is it audible in the spoken word? I do not know, I only know that it cannot be acquired by book-reading, nor by the bed-side of our patients. It is a magic gift granted by birth-right to one man and denied to another. The doctor who possesses this gift can almost raise the dead. The doctor who does not possess it will have to submit to the calling-in of a colleague for consultation in a case of measles.
This last note about measles caused me to chuckle as I recalled the day when I noticed my internist in a hallway outside of the consultation room where I sat waiting for him to return with his diagnosis for my strange symptoms.
I was thirty-five at that time, had been bed-ridden for most of a week, and my regular doctor had sent me to this internist for a consultation. Not only could he not yet tell me what was wrong with me, but he had brought in a fellow internist and the two of them were looking up something in the large medical dictionary in full sight of me! ! ! I trembled as he returned to explain to me what was wrong. "Don't worry," he said, "it's just that it's not often we get a case of red measles in an adult." Me, who had red measles as a young boy, confirmed by my mother who raised five boys and a girl and ought to know, with red measles! Sure enough, the flood of the measles symptoms came back to me and they matched exactly the strange symptoms I had been experiencing, fever, red spots on my body, my eyes sensitive to light.
There was a passage on page iv of the New Preface which needs to be quoted here.
[page iv] One reviewer has discovered that "there is enough material in 'The Story of San Michele' to furnish writers of short sensational stories with plots for the rest of their lives." They are quite welcome to this material for what it is worth. I have no further use for it.
I would say there is material enough for a dozen or more different movies or just one epic movie like "Doctor Zhivago" in this book, except for the absence of a prominent love story. My nomination for the best story is the one in Chapter X The Corpse Conductor. No synopsis or review of the story can do more than spoil the plot and surprise ending of this amazing story which Axel relates about conducting an eighteen-year-old Swedish man home from San Remo. Dying of consumption, his mother was called from Sweden to accompany the doctor and her son. When they arrived in Basel, Switzerland, the mother had a heart attack which nearly killed her and necessitated that Axel put himself and the dying son up in a fancy hotel, and wait for the mother's recovery. The son then dies and suddenly Axel is faced with a dead person who needed to be embalmed and a hotel room being torn apart to remove the bed linens and carpets, all at Axel's expense. He does a quick embalming based on his assisting at one while in medical school because it is much cheaper and he is footing the bill for the embalming. Then he tries to get the body onto the train and the train master insisted that a Leichenbegleiter (Corpse companion) is necessary to accompany the body, someone who will ride in a sealed compartment with the coffin all the way to the ferry to Sweden. Axel wouldn't have that as he had seen more of the body than he wanted and had already purchased himself a ticket in Second Class. What happens next is the meat of comedy, tragedy, farce, and human folly all rolled into one.
Just as the train car is about to be shuttled to the side track because of a lack of a companion, one appears from nowhere, a dwarf who is a professional Leichenbegleiter. Axel is relieved but soon finds out that this dwarf is here to be companion to a Russian general who had died and was being sent to the same port to board a ferry to Russia. After some amazing maneuvering, Axel gets the station master to sunder the bureaucratic morass of regulations and allow the dwarf to companion two corpses.
If you have guessed how this tale might end up, it is probably because someone has already taken Axel's suggestion and written a story based on the plot of this true story as he experienced it. Will the boy's mother survive and want to see her son's body? Will she be shocked when Axel opens the coffin for her? Will his makeshift, home-brewed embalming preserve the boy's body? Truth is often stranger than fiction, and this story proves the old adage. Here's a short piece of the amazing story, in which the dachshund puppy which Axel bought as his own companion on the lugubrious journey, Waldmann, plays an important part.
[page 198, 199] While the station master returned to the perusal of his entangled documents, I took the hunchback aside, patted him cordially on the back and offered him fifty marks cash and another fifty marks I meant to borrow from the Swedish Consul in Lubeck if he would undertake to be the Leichenbegleiter of the coffin of the boy as well as of that of the Russian general. He accepted my offer at once. The station master said it was an unprecedented case, it raised a delicate point of law, he felt sure it was" verboten" for two corpses to travel with one Leichenbegleiter between them. He must consult the Kaiserliche Oberliche Eisenbahn Amt Direktion Bureau, it would take at least a week to get an answer. It was Waldmann who saved the situation. Several times during our discussions I had noticed a friendly glance from the station master's gold-rimmed spectacles in the direction of the puppy and several times he had stretched his enormous hand for a gentle stroke on Waldmann's long, silky ears. I decided on a last desperate attempt to move his heart. Without saying a word I deposited Waldmann on his lap. As the puppy licked him all over the face and started pulling at his porcupine moustaches, his harsh features softened gradually into a broad, honest smile at our helplessness. Five minutes later the hunchback had signed a dozen documents as the Leichenbegleiter of the two coffins, and I with Waldmann and my Gladstone bag was flung into a crowded second-class compartment as the train was starting.
Of course, Waldmann was house-broken, but he was not permitted in second-class, and soon both Axel and his traveling companion were relegated to the same space as the corpse companion and the two corpses, and the five of them traveled to the port together, keeping each other company as much as possible in the stuffy railroad car, during which much is revealed to Axel about the Russian general and his embalming. Axel even got a much-needed shave from the dwarf, who had shaved many corpses before and "never heard a word of complaint." Axel complained about being made to lie flat on his back to be shaved, and got this explanation. "It is a matter of habit," explained the Leichenbegleiter, "you cannot make a corpse sit up, you are the first living man I have ever shaved." (Page 203)
Eventually Axel returned to Capri, to Anacapri, to Mastro Nicola, to Timberius's summer palace's ruins, to the San Michele Chapel where he spent the rest of his life, except for a winter or so in Rome where he made money off rich Swedes and English folk to finance his work on his new home. It was all done by eye Mastro Nicola called Axel's architectural design for San Michele.
[page 339] The huge arcades of the big loggias [RJM: vine-covered walkways] rose rapidly out of the earth, one by one the hundred white columns of the pergola [RJM: columned portico across front of home] stood out against the sky. What had once been Mastro Vincenzo's house and his carpenter workshop was gradually transformed and enlarged into what was to become my future home. How it was done I have never been able to understand nor has anybody else who knows the history of the San Michele of today. I knew absolutely nothing about architecture nor did any of my fellow workers, nobody who could read or writer ever had anything to do with the work, no architect was ever consulted, no proper drawing or plan was ever made, no exact measurements were ever taken. It was all done all'occhio as Mastro Nicola called it.
[page 432] I told Mastro Nicola that the proper way to build one's house was to knock everything down never mind how many time and begin again until your eye told you that everything was right. The eye knew much more about architecture than did the books. The eye was infallible, as long as you relied on your own eye and not on the eye of other people.
At times Axel saw the red-cloaked figure walking among the loggia, the same one that had appeared to him in a dream to tell him that he would build San Michele, and he seemed to be inspecting the work of Axel and his workers. Surely this was Sant' Antonio, the patron saint of Anacapri, Axel thought.
The episode in Chapter XXI about the telegram is worth the price of the book itself, but I will leave it as a homework exercise, dear Reader, as it spans several pages — I will only hint at the delight of the first telegram ever sent by wireless from the mainland to Capri using semaphores or flags. And the anguish of the aged letter carrier Maria Porta-Lettere trying to deliver a telegram no one could translate to God only knows who. Eventually, the Swedish minister arrived and wanted to know if Axel got his telegram. Did he get it? Everyone in Anacapri got to see it, but not a single one could decipher it! The minister insisted on knowing why he did not acknowledge his telegram and warn him about the 777 Phoenician steps he would have to climb to visit him!
[page 345] Of course I got it, we all got it, I nearly got drunk over it. He softened a bit when I handed him the telegram, he said he wanted to take it to Rome to show it to the Ministero delle Post e Telegrafi. I snatched it from him, warning him that any attempt to improve the telegraphic communications between Capri and the mainland would be strenuously opposed by me.
When Axel showed him around San Michele, the Minister was full of admiration, but when Axel pointed out the place he had selected to install the huge Egyptian sphinx of red granite, the Minister asked for a glass of wine and a quiet place to have a talk with Axel. Soon he was asking Axel about who his architect was and about the source of his funding. A similar thing was asked me by my friend Clay Andrews, also a doctor, when I told him that Axel tended the sick of Capri at no charge while he built his beloved San Michele.
The Minister's advice to start up a practice in Rome during the winter months and spend his summers in Capri shook Axel up so much that he took a swim in the sea and didn't dare to return to San Michele until he had done so. And thus began his fortuitous adventures in the Piazza di Spagna area of Rome, no doubt the very popular area now called the Spanish Steps. His first client had been treated by all the doctors in Rome to no effect when Charcot himself recommended Axel to her, and soon Axel's reputation was good as gold after Axel's strong dosage of hope and a minor massage got her paralysis completed abated, and half the fashionable Roman society had seen her walking along the Villa Borghese using only a cane.
Soon Axel's penchant for not setting any specific fee, nor bothering to send out bills, infuriated the medical guild in Rome who sent a deputation to him with the aim of correcting this failing of his, as they saw it, by insisting he join their Mutual Protection Society. Especially egregious was Axel charging only a hundred francs for an embalming instead of the guild's fee of five thousand francs. Here in part is Axel's answer to the deputy:
[page 355] I answered I was sorry I could not see the advantage either for me or for them of my becoming a member, that anyhow I was willing to discuss with them the fixing of a maximum fee but not of a minimum fee. As to the injections of sublimate they called embalmment, its cost did not exceed fifty francs. Adding another fifty for the loss of time, the sum I had charged for embalming the parson's wife was correct. I intended to earn from the living, not from the dead. I was a doctor, not a hyæna.
He rose from his seat at the word hyæna with a request not to disturb myself in case I ever wished to call him in consultation, he was not available. I said it was a blow both to myself and to my patients, but that we would have to try to do without him.
The deputy was soon to call Axel to see him after a stroke, at which time he told Alex the guild had been busted and he couldn't trust any of his so-called friends to heal him. Alex soon had him back on his feet and flourishing.
Another hilarious moment came when Axel healed a monkey belonging to a retired old English chemist, reported to be a renown surgeon for the South during the Civil War. The old monkey was a horrible sight, having been almost scalded to death from upsetting a boiling tea kettle. The monkey, named Billy, was fond of whiskey, as was the old doctor, and let to the drunken bout involving the two of them, Billy and the old doctor, one day which Axel happened upon. Billy was later to come into Axel's possession after the old doctor died and lived out his days with Axel in San Michele, sober of course, Axel cured him of his dipsomania. Billy would do tricks for the chemist such as bringing him a fig when asked, as he demonstrated to Axel. The old doctor called Billy his son, a term of endearment, and understandable since Billy was the closest thing to a son the doctor had, often married, but having no offspring, or did he? This sounds like something from the pen of a Southern writer like William Faulkner.
[page 358, 359] Billy got slowly better. I saw him every day for a fortnight, and I ended by becoming quite fond both of him and his master. Soon I found him sitting in his specially constructed rocking chair on their sunny terrace by the side of his master, a bottle of whisky on the table between them. The old doctor was a great believer in whisky to steady one's hand before an operation. To judge from the number of empty whisky bottles in the corner of the terrace his surgical practice must have been considerable. Alas! they were both addicted to drink, I had often caught Billy helping himself to a little whisky and soda out of his master's glass. The doctor had told me whisky was the best possible tonic for monkeys, it had saved the life of Billy's beloved mother after her pneumonia. One evening I came upon them on their terrace, both blind drunk. Billy was executing a sort of negro dance on the table round the whisky bottle, the old doctor sat leaning back in his chair clapping his hands to mark the time, singing in a hoarse voice:
"Billy, My son, Billy, my sonny, soooooooonny!" They neither heard nor saw me coming. I stared in consternation at the happy family. The face of the intoxicated monkey had become quite human, the face of the old drunkard looked exactly like the face of a gigantic gorilla. The family likeness was unmistakable.
"Billy, my son, Billy, my son, sooooooony ! " Was it possible? No, of course it was not possible but it made me feel quite creepy. . . .
One had to sting the eyes out of a bird and have it survive, something that was very difficult to do as only one out of a hundred birds survived the operation but the few who did lived to sing all night. Only when the bird butcher of the Isle of Capri was dying, and asked, begged his sworn enemy Axel to attend to him, did Axel extract a pledge from him to stop the butchery of the birds. Axel was truly for the birds.
In the amazing story of the Bambino (Jesus as a baby) we learn that a bush of rosemary in flower is used every year to decorate the altar, actually the nursery of the Baby Jesus. Why rosemary? "Because when the Madonna washed the linen of the Infant Jesus Christ, she hung his little shirt to dry on a bush of rosemary." I read these words only a couple of weeks after seeing the first rosemary in bloom while I was in California and have included a photo so you may see as well.
As the end of his life draws near, Axel Munthe leaves his beloved San Michele for the mainland and the Tower of Materita where he will spend his time, dialoguing in earnest with his lifelong companion, the earnest harvester who never gives up, never leaves a field unharvested, ungleaned, removing the very last grain. The harvester asks if Axel wished a priest to be sent for, "They always send for a priest when they see me coming." No, Axel replied, "It is no use sending for the priest, he can do nothing for me now. It is too late for me to repent and too early for him to condemn, and I suppose it matters little to you either way."
[page 511, 512] "I heard a golden oriole sing in the garden yesterday, and just as the sun went down a little warbler came and sang to me under the window, shall I ever hear him again?"
"Where there are angels there are birds."
"I wish a friendly voice could read the 'Phaedo' to me once more."
"The voice was mortal, the words are immortal, you will hear them again."
"Shall I ever hear again the sounds of Mozart's Requiem, my beloved Schubert and the titan chords of Beethoven?"
"It was only an echo from Heaven you overheard."
"I am ready. Strike friend!"
"I am not going to strike. I am going to put you to sleep."
"Shall I awake?"
No answer came to my question.
"Shall I dream?"
"Yes, it is all a dream."
Axel's book ends with a magnificent dream in which he is met by St. Peter who will not let him enter until Axel tells him something he did that no other human had done. All the things that Axel thinks of, St. Peter can think of many other men, many other doctors had done. Axel is saved at the last second by a tiny bird, who landed on his shoulder and whispered into his ear, "You saved the life of my grandmother, my aunt and my three brothers and sisters from torture and death by the hand of the man on that rocky island. Welcome! Welcome!" St. Francis of Assisi rose in front of the mighty judges and looked them in the eyes, "his wonderful eyes that neither God nor man nor beast could meet with anger in theirs." At that, Axel's head sank on St. Francis's shoulder, thinking that he was dead and did not know it.
A fitting end to the life of a fascinating man, Dr. Axel Munthe, architect and builder of San Michele, and beloved doctor to the peoples of the Isle of Capri, city of Rome, and city of Paris.
Read the Full Review at:
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I hear often from my Good Readers that they have bought books after reading my book reviews. Keep reading, folks! As I like to remind you, to obtain more information on what's in these books, buy and read the books — for less information, read the reviews.
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= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =In this section I like to comment on events in the world, in my life, and in my readings which have come up during the month. These are things I might have shared with you in person, if we had had the opportunity to converse during the month. If we did, then you may recognize my words. If I say some things here which upset you, rest assured that you may skip over these for the very reason that I would likely have not brought up the subject to spoil our time together in person.
Padre Filius, the cartoon character created by your intrepid editor and would-be cartoonist, will appear from time to time in this Section of the Digest to share us on some amusing or enlightening aspect of the world he observes during his peregrinations. The Communications of ACM of July, 2008 had an article on a new phenomenon known as Cloud Computing, the migration of computing resources from local PCs to diffuse computer locations across the world, like Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Library and Google Docs, among other things.
This month the good Padre discovers Cloud Computing.
2.Comments from Readers: A special THANKS and MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you who wrote greetings to me and Del via email in December. I've selected a few of your emails below to share with the Digest readers like yourself. Bobby
- CC: of EMAIL to Kevin Dann from Edward Reaugh Smith in Lubbock, TX:
I've just read Bobby's review of your new book, A Short Story of American Destiny 1909 — 2009 and have just put it in my shopping cart at Amazon. Like the looks of it and look forward to reading it. Congratulations on its publication.
Hope things are going well with you and that it is has been a good semester at school.
What a year this has been. Looks like there will be a good bit of hardship all over the world this Christmas season.
But let us ever be thankful for that most important event ever to happen, the Incarnation of the Christ at the turning point of time
EMAIL from Noula re Digest08c:
It sure is a pleasure receiving you emails. I am putting a trip together 7 days in Istanbul, if you have an interest I can mail you some info.
Take care and Merry Christmas to you and your family
EMAIL from my daughter Maureen in Metairie after our snow day:
Merlyn and I sneaked out back to build a snowman. One of the teachers brought his students out...and they were amazed that you could really roll a snowball into such a big ball. We had so much fun...but my hands really hurt...I didn't have gloves!
EMAIL from Chris Bryant in Corpus Christi, TX:
Just a quick scan so far but a great digest this month, outstanding pictures. Carla and I laughed vigorously at your fearsome sword wielding pirate picture, because we know how unfearsome you are. Thanks for sharing the information on Warren, I remember his response to your transgenerational doyles explanation. You did do a magnificent job.
EMAIL from Brian Kelley, Jr. in Colorado:
As I was reading this months edition of the digest, it seems we have a long distance connection. You had Lunch just recently at Kenner Seafood. I order all my crawfish and crabs from Trudy — I've been doing this for many years now. She has great seasonings and the Alligator Sausage is outstanding in the boil also. Just goes to show the 6 degree's of seperation can work for anyone. LOL. Hope all is well, tell Mrs. Del that I said Hello.
EMAIL from Bobby Duplantis in Lafayette, LA:
Bobby, That's a me. Carolyn and I have a place in Truckee and Pat is our next door neighbor. Small world.Thanks for the pictures and you and yours have a merry Christmas. I do read your stuff and do like to hear from old friends from wego. Bob [RJM: See Photo of me and Pat Castelluccia taken in California]
EMAIL from Stoney's wife in Mandeville, LA:
This is what our kids did at school today. All 6 of them, because the smart ones stayed home! What a strange day.
See you Sunday,
EMAIL from Eddie in Dallas, TX:
Warmest Greetings from DFW!,
Your #12 where the fellow was 'recovered' after falling into the upholstery machine reminded me, and I couldn't believe this wasn't on your list as it certainly is fitting: the butcher also had a similar accident. He somehow backed into his meat grinder. Got a little behind in his work.:)
I am a professional musician here in the Dallas area and, over the years, have either lived or heard many funny situations and would be very pleased to share if you ever want to hear something like that. All clean (for the most part) just maybe suggestive.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. And live and love in peace,
Eddie Clark. - Rock/Prog/Fusion Musician
EMAIL from Rob's wife, Kathryn in Indiana:
I hope you and Del are having a fun winterland! I've brought out my record player and have been listening to old Christmas records all day long. The records are all at least 30 years old. Great fun and memories.
The kids will soon be home and I'm sure over the moon with the cookie basket you & Del sent. Thank you!
EMAIL from Steve and Melody Sander in Dallas, TX:
Mel and I wish you and yours a VERY Merry Christmas!! I also hope, mon ami, that the coming year is the absolute best ever for you and the rest of the Matherne clan!
Steve and Mel
EMAIL from Richard in California:
I stumbled across your web site while looking up my favorite author, Morton Thompson, on Wikipedia. I first read 'Not As A Stranger' in the 1950's at age 14 or 15 and followed with 'The Cry and the Covenant' next. I've always considered it as one of my favorite books.
Your article on 'The Cry and the Covenant' was very well done and it was nice to see I am not alone on my opinion of this book.
EMAIL from Kevin Dann:
The entire Christmas greeting was done in a video card from Skype.com. Click Here!
The muskrat ranges ranges from the South to New England, where Thoreau in his Journal called it "mushquash". When the nutria was imported into South Louisiana in 1960s to provide a new fur for our trappers, the transplant seemed successful, but no one reckoned with Fisher's Fundamental Theorem of Biology which goes approximately: when two species compete in the same and bounds in the past half-century, gradually we discovered that the sides of canals were being tunneled into by the large aquatic rodents, causing subsidence and expensive repair to these essential conduit for our often heavy local rainfall. There were also rumors that the nutria were destroying the marshlands with their voracious appetite for vegetation. As a result there is now a bounty on nutria tails of $5 each to encourage the killing the killing of these animals within our suburban areas.
No doubt, in the coming decades, naturalists will discover that they were wrong about the ill-effects they reckoned were caused by nutria and they will also find, if they ever look, for the benefits which have accured from their presence.
This morning, on my circadian trip to PJ's Coffeeshop, I passed what I thought was a dead possum in the middle of a residential street, Fairfield Drive, near here. But as I drove past, something moved. I looked back to see it was multiple animals. Backing up, I drove up alongside so I shoot a photo of the animals from my car window. As I did so, a lady across the street yelled at me that they were nutria and she didn't want them in her yard, which backs up on a canal and the likely home of these four nutria babies.
They were about the size of a large guinea pig and just as cute. One of them looked up to me with a mournful visage and let out a sorrowful sound like a hurting cat might. These were full of luscious looking fur, each with a long tail. Unfortunately, they weren't eating, so I couldn't get an image of their unique identifier, their bright orange teeth. Their teeth might not be that color from birth, so far as I know.
To paraphrase a popular book on grammar, anyone watching could have described my actions, "Stops, shoots and leaves." But the nutria is not an endangered species like the Panda Bear, in fact, many folks hereabouts wish they were endangered. The fartherest thing from my mind was to shoot those cute animals and cut off their tails for a bounty, even if I had had a gun in my car. The only shooting I did was with my camera. But as I began to drive away, I noticed two guys had stopped ahead of me in a white van, and they were walking towards the four furry creatures. I thought, perhaps naively, that they were going to pick up the four babies, put them in a cardboard box, and take them home. I knew the lady would object to having the babes placed in the canal behind her home. Perhaps they took them, but what would they do with them? These animals get as big as a large housecat and more rotund, so they would make rather likely pets in a short time. Perhaps they were planning to claim the $20 bounty for the animals was the thought which came to me as I typed up this Commentary. No one knows, but if you have never seen a baby nutria up close, take look.
When I got home this line came to me: "Four little nutria in middle of the road" and I decided to write a short ballad of those four babies. Here it is, with a more optimistic ending than the nursery rhyme of The Three Blind Mice:
Four Little Nutria
©2008 by Bobby Matherne
Four li'l nutr’a in middle of the road
Huddled together because of the cold
Dodging traffic and looking for their Mum
Crawling around the yellow-striped median.
Two big guys getting out of a van,
Going to the babes and picking up by hand,
Placin’ in a box and taking them away,
Givin’ them a chance to live another day.
Four li’l nutr’a in the back of the van
List’ning to the two guys hatching a plan —
What they’re ahearing ain’t very funny —
Two guys akilling ‘em for some money.
Four li’l nutr’a having not a clue
What these nasty guys are aplanning to do
Two guys saying, “Let us be taking their life,
Cutting off their tails with a butcher knife.”
Four li’l nutr’a in the back of the van,
Talking and scheming and hatching a plan,
Achewing their way right out of the box,
Hiding in the back of some big brown rocks.
Two guys going to the back of the van
Holding a gun, holding a knife in the hand,
Thinking of the money, each a bill of ten,
From the bounty they be getting to spend.
Two guys opening the door of the van
Pulling at the box with a greedy little hand,
Carefully sliding it, oh so gently,
Gasping aloud when finding it empty.
Four li’l nutr’a peeking and seeking their chance,
Jumping to the ground and beginning their prance —
Across the lawn and into the ditch —
Two nasty guys wondering which was which.
Four li’l nutr’a escaping from the man
Heading for the marsh and living off the land,
Dodging the shooters, looking for their Mum,
Crawling and chomping their way to freedom.
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9. CLOSING NOTES:
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My reviews are not intended to replace the purchasing and reading of the reviewed books, but rather to supplant a previous reading or to spur a new reading of your own copy. What I endeavor to do in most of my reviews is to impart a sufficient amount of information to get the reader comfortable with the book so that they will want to read it for themselves. My Rudolf Steiner reviews are more detailed and my intention is bring his work to a new century of readers by converting his amazing insights into modern language and concepts.
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